Today marks the end of our August holiday here at the Monastery. I can’t say I’m sad. This is my eighth August here, and I’ve become comfortable with the pattern of the month. The first two weeks I luxuriate in the quiet of the Guesthouse and grounds without guests. I love having more time to read, hike, craft, and write. The third week I begin to feel rested and start to look toward the return of guests to our life. By the fourth week, I’m a little agitated and fully ready to return to the hubbub and the energy of a guesthouse full of people and the fuller structure of our ordinary life.
I’ve come to learn that I do not do well for very long without that structure. I need time, space, and quiet to look inward, but too much of it leaves me staring. I get a little lost in the inner wilderness sometimes. With too much unstructured space for too long a time, I become a bit self-involved. More and more I am the arbiter of what is good and right in my life. If I want to read, I read. If I want to walk, I walk. It’s not that that’s a bad thing, per se. But it isn’t particularly monastic when taken to an extreme.
These days leave me deeply grateful for the rhythm of our life, which allows for times of rest and relaxation, times of quiet and prayer, and times of energy and engagement with the world and our guests. I need all of these elements to be healthy and open. Too much or too little of any one of them, and I’m a grumpy monk.
Today is the feast of St. Aidan, and so it’s a rather special day to me. Last St. Aidan’s Day someone sent me a prayer based on the tidal nature of Lindisfarne, the island where Aidan settled and built his first monastic community. At low tide every day, you can walk to the island from the mainland, but when the tide comes in the island is cut off and isolated. It’s a good image for the life with God as we live it here at Holy Cross:
Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
make me an island, set apart,
alone with you, God, holy to you.
Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you.
I’m always delighted when the tide comes in, and I’m left alone in quiet with God. And I’m always delighted when the tide goes out, and the world rushes in again. The one experience feeds me and prepares me for the other. I pray to be like St. Aidan, equally at home in both experiences, loving the ones God sends my way, practicing gentleness, and shining the little light God has given me in this dark and darkening world.