a perpetual Lent

No, I’m not giving up chocolate for Lent. Nor alcohol, nor swearing, nor snark. I’m not giving up anything for Lent. I’m a vegan(ish) monk who doesn’t eat sugar, for heaven’s sake! I don’t own property in my name; I don’t have a career; I don’t decide the contours of my daily life; and I don’t have sex. What’s left to give up? Breathing?

For several years now, instead of giving something up for Lent, I’ve tried to take something on instead. I’d add an extra time of Centering Prayer in the day, or more Bible reading, or a daily walk. I’d pick a spiritual book to work through or a daily journaling practice. But in addition to being a vegan(ish) monk who doesn’t eat sugar, I’m also rather obsessive, achievement-oriented, and competitive. Adding something on during Lent activates my goal-meeting mechanism, and rather than deepen my spiritual practices or enrich my relationship with God, taking something on, as much as fasting, often becomes another way to earn and to prove–if only to myself–that I’m really a great monk and Christian.

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the graces of friendship

We live with a poverty of friendship. We all relate to one another, to ourselves, and to God every day. What does it say that our word for that exchange–relationship–has come to mean primarily the romantic and sexual?

One of the unexpected graces of the monastic life has been the recognition of the tremendous gift of friendship. When I chose celibacy, I was both assenting to some deeper intuition of my identity and actively choosing to live in a way that decentralizes the sexual and romantic quest. That doesn’t mean that the fantasy of married or family life, my body’s longing to be touched, or the deeper and very real calling to partnered life have left me. On the contrary–all three (and more) are clearer when illuminated by the light of celibacy. The value and abundance of friendship in my life has been similarly revealed.

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on fallowness

The laundry sat in a large pile in my office for months. A large yellow and blue tablecloth bunched up on top of three new bedspreads. All I had to do was walk the pile down a flight of stairs, put it in the washing machine, and hit the start button. But there it sat.

It was in good company. There was a huge cardboard box with a new kitchen pot the size of a bird bath, all shiny grooved aluminum wrapped loosely in a plastic bag. One day, in an effort to tidy things up, I put the tablecloth in the box. So now I had a large box, dirty tablecloth overflowing its banks, and also a pile of bedspreads. Oh, and there was the stack of archival photographs of the monastery that had been sitting in the corner, on top of a plant caddy, for over a year. And the radeon gas test on my desk. I think that one had only been sitting there for a few months. And the plaque for my father’s place in our columbarium. That one was there for closer to a year.

You get the idea.

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a new day and a new year

Today is my 35th birthday. It feels more momentous than any birthday I’ve yet had. I’m not sure why.

For the last few months, I’ve been aware that the next big one is 40. I remember my mom’s 40th birthday so clearly. We all made a huge deal of it. Lordy, lordy! Stephanie’s 40! We sang that refrain for a month at least. My mom seemed so old to me then; I couldn’t imagine 40 years of life. Now it seems young. I know: Welcome to the Club.

Shortly before my grandmother’s death, I asked her if she thought of herself as an old woman. She smiled and said, “Not at all. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think ‘Who is this old woman staring at me?’ I still feel 18 inside.”

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the morning after

I woke this morning later than usual, because I stayed up later than usual hoping for a decisive and early close to the election. Upon waking, I knew I had to do three things: get a cup of coffee–the first sacrament of every day–take a shower, and dress in my habit.

Whenever anyone asks a friend of mine why she became a priest, she tells them that she needs more supervision than most Christians. I know just what she means. And I think that’s where the urge to wear my habit today came from. It’s not a feast day. Probably no one else in my community will be wearing his habit. And yet, I need the reminder today, of all days, that I am, first and last, a monk.

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A Maker’s Pilgrimage

Dear ones,

This is a quick update to let you all know about a piece of writing I’ve just finished.

Next week I leave for Northern Ireland to lead a retreat on craft and contemplation. Friends, guests at the Monastery, and folks who have enjoyed my fiber arts podcast have been encouraging for me a while now to write down my thoughts on craft as contemplative practice. I decided to use the upcoming retreat in Ireland as an excuse to do just that.

This piece is a beginning. I imagine I’ll add to it, edit it, and possibly expand it as my thinking changes. Even if you are not a maker of things, you may appreciate the piece for what it has to say about contemplation, ecology, beauty, and creativity. Fair warning: it is rather long compared to my blog posts.

You can access the piece here: A Maker’s Pilgrimage

If you have thoughts, comments, or suggestions, please do send them my way.

I always love hearing from you.

Wishing you a beautiful fall,

Aidan

 

All the Boys I Could Have Been

My father is dying.

Stage IV lung cancer, for which he isn’t seeking treatment. I know all that from his sister, Judy, who called me during our long retreat in January. My phone began to buzz around 11.15 in the morning, not long before Eucharist. The day had already been a beautiful one—bright sunshine, deep quiet, prayer that was robust and gentle and full of love. I felt happy.

When I saw that Judy was calling, I knew immediately something was wrong. She and I hadn’t talked for a couple of years, not from animosity, but because we weren’t close and don’t feel we should pretend to be. I chose not to break the quiet spell of the morning and to call Judy back after lunch. I honestly thought my father was probably dead, and that Judy was calling to tell me. I’d been waiting more and more impatiently for that news for the eleven years since I’d last seen my father.

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planting tulips in a time of war

This fall the maples were as late catching fire as I can remember. By the time they lit, the black walnuts, always the first to go anyway, had dropped their leaves. Everyone said it was because it was too wet, or too cool, or too whatever. I can never quite remember what are supposed to be the optimal conditions for orange and red maple leaves.

It was a season of synchronicity. While I waited for the maples, the UN released a report on the state of climate change and the natural environment, urging the world to action and telling whoever was listening that by 2040 we could expect violent climactic events. As if the wildfires in California, the tsunamis throughout the Pacific, the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico and Houston weren’t violent enough to count.

While all this information was settling in, while I was pushing the despair that threatened to the edges of consciousness, a friend sent me a poem from Edward Harkness. It begins “There’s no word for it so far, the word / for what it means to be in love with you / in our sinking world.”[1]

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