Sunday morning, as I was finalizing my sermon, I went searching for a passage I remembered reading in Christian Wiman’s beautiful and poetic meditation on the contours of faith, My Bright Abyss. I opened the book, in an act of synchronicity, to a different passage that went like an arrow to the heart:
What you must realize, what you must even come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to become apparent to you once and for all. The most blinding illumination that strikes and perhaps radically changes your life will become so attenuated and obscured by doubts and dailiness that you may one day come to suspect the truth of that moment at all. The calling that seemed so clear will be lost in echoes of questionings and indecision; the church that seemed to save you will fester with egos, complacencies, banalities; the deepest love of your life will work itself like a thorn in your heart until all you can think of is plucking it out. Wisdom is accepting the truth of this. Courage is persisting with life in spite of it. And faith is finding yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, in the very heart of who you are, moved to praise it. (29-30)
I made my profession of the monastic vow in November. As I prepared to do so, I heard from several wise people that the making of the vow was not the end but the beginning of struggle, fidelity, questioning, wrestling, and, in ever deeper freedom, surrendering to the movement of God in my life. It turns out these wise people were right.
As I’ve written some in this blog, my spirituality is becoming more and more ordinary. The other side of that is to say that there are times when the life with God feels more and more boring. “Is this all there is?” I’ve heard myself asking sometimes. Sometimes immediately and sometimes a few days later the answer comes: “Yes, this is all there is. This is all there ever was, and it is enough.”
During our recent meeting of the Chapter of the Order, we took some time to share with one another a bit about the longing that drew us to the monastic life, and also the ways that longing has changed over the years. One of my brothers said something to the effect that he had learned, in the course of his several decades in monastic life, to feel satisfied. That comment has stayed with me, both as promise and as reflection of a reality more ultimate than the affective dimensions of my life. It gave me pause to remember that, for years and years, I had this sense that life was just about to begin. I don’t know how or when, but some time ago that feeling ceased, and I began to feel, without even having to name the feeling, that I was inhabiting my own life.
I have now been at Holy Cross as long as I’ve been anywhere in my adult life. And there is every indication that I will be here for the rest of my life. The recognition of that spaciousness allows the turmoil of the ordinary to bubble up, the complacencies, banalities, and dailiness, as Wiman calls the experience. The beautiful and paradoxical aspect to monastic profession is that it is revealing to me that monasticism is not the answer to the longing that has run beneath the surface of my life for longer than I had language to describe it. The longing is its own answer, in as much as the longing is longing for God alone, and a longing that God alone can meet, even as every meeting of that longing deepens and expands rather than quells it.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, echoing Meister Eckhart and my brother Randy, there is no such thing as a spiritual life. There is only life. And yes, this is all there is. This is all there ever was. And it is enough.
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