For the last week or two I have been struck forcibly by the gift of my life. The things I have most yearned for–home, family, love, and intimacy–now fill my life. When I reflect on that abundance, the words of Psalm 139 come to me: “such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is so high that I cannot attain to it.” It’s almost as if the light is too bright to look into head on. I can only appreciate the full gift of my life in small increments, and seen from the side.
I have consistently made choices that have led me into the life I now live. Those choices have often been difficult ones, and they certainly haven’t led to a life free of struggle or longing. But they have led to a life that is larger and more spacious than I could ever have imagined, even as its particulars look nothing like the daydreams of childhood.
And yet, there is an element of grace in my life that I cannot overlook. The abundance I experience is greater than the sum of my choices. My part has been to take up the pieces of my life, to hold them up to God, and to allow God–often through my actions–to make of those pieces what God will. And then to be satisfied, even to rejoice, at the partial, human, messy imperfection of it all.
One of the unlooked for blessings in my life is to discover that I have the heart of a maker or an artist. Before I came to the monastery I expressed my creativity through cooking, which I did with enthusiasm. When I came to the monastery, where we have two professional chefs to feed sometimes as many as 70 people in a day, my opportunities for cooking diminished. So I turned to the garden.
I don’t know what drew me to gardening. It was more a latent understanding housed in my body gradually waking up than it was a series of conscious decisions to explore gardening. It was if I had always been a gardener and I was now living in the right conditions for that identity to emerge from the earth of my life. All I knew was that I had so much energy to create that I could not keep it in. It felt, as it often still does, as if my body were on fire with an energy that I had to express.
Shortly into my first winter, with no garden to tend, that energy drove me, and the rest of my brothers, a little crazy. Brother Joseph joked that I needed a winter sport, some way to express my creativity when I couldn’t have my hands in the dirt. With that goal in mind, I took up knitting. Then knitting took me up.
Like gardening, knitting has been a way to channel my creative (which is also to say spiritual) energies. When I knit, I enter into my relationship with God in a way that is nonverbal, nontextual, that is silent and easy and meditative. I allow God’s energy to move through my body, slowly transforming a pile of string into something beautiful, useful, and warm. As I make, God makes me.
The more I engage my creativity, the more creativity infuses my life. That’s the thing about God–the more you know and loves God, the more God there is to know and love. You see and love God in the trees, in the faces of the people you live with, in the anger you feel at the horrors that plague our world, in the fatigue at the end of a day well spent. More and more I see that gardening and knitting are extensions of my communal and private prayer. They are both expressions of and responses to the abundant life that God has given me and that I have chosen and continue to choose to take up.
It sometimes astonishes me that I should have such a life. It is beyond my most absurd imaginings. And it is real, and it is mine. More and more the divisions in my life soften, so that my prayer is my knitting, and my knitting is my spiritual direction, and my spiritual direction is my gardening, and my gardening is my intimacy with my brothers. Because all of these ways of living in the spirit are my one, extraordinary and ordinary life, a life that expands every single day.
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