there is not enough time to shrink back

The wind is howling outside my window, and I’ve been dreaming of death again. For over a week now, every night, I struggle against the current. The undertow pulls at my ankles. The water fills my throat. The sky is black with a faint green tinge, the way it used to look when I was a kid and the tornadoes were rushing in. We’d huddle in the stairwell, in case the windows shattered.

I forget that this is what spring looks like every year. I can’t get down to the River because the snow still blocks the way. As it does on all my favorite nearby trails. It’s worse than snow. With the melting underway, it’s a crust of brittle ice over slush and mud. There’s an invitation to a bruised hip. I’m stuck on paved roads. The daffodils still seem too far away. And my hands are craving the dirt in a way they haven’t in years, since the garden was fresh, and I couldn’t keep myself away from it.

Continue reading “there is not enough time to shrink back”

cell by cell

I live in a cell bricked with books. Thousands of them, cemented with desiccated flowers I grew myself, sweat riming their papery remains. Glossed with calories burned and the tear of muscle. Wooly bits of yarn stick out from the cracks between the pages. Quilts blanket the ceiling, blocking out the stars. Outside, the myriad me stands sentinel. Altar boy, prep school scholarship star, Mardi Gras king, all in a row. It certainly is beautiful, as far as prisons go. For someone else it might even be a castle.

This is what idolatry looks like. These walls I built myself–these are my golden calf. Good and beautiful things, holy even. Ambition and moxie and nerve, all used to brick in a life, to create a simulacrum of safety. To keep things small and manageable.

Continue reading “cell by cell”

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.

Continue reading “a perpetual Lent”

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.

Continue reading “the graces of friendship”

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.

Continue reading “on fallowness”

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.”

Continue reading “a new day and a new year”

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.

Continue reading “the morning after”

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