I spent the whole week of January 9, 2011 in Glastonbury Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Hingham, MA. It was part of a class I was taking for my Masters of Divinity program at Andover Newton Theological School. Before entering, I had to do my best to empty myself of all expectations and desires for my time there. I just wanted to be present and receive what God was creating there and what “He” would consequently be creating in me through the experience. If I had one word to describe how I felt after leaving the Abbey, it would be humbled.
There were a lot of tears shed by most of the people who were a part of our class. Probably no one moreso than me. Despite the title of this posting, my tears were not tears of sadness, but primarily tears of joy at the beauty that I experienced there. The whole time we were there, there was the palpable sense that we were all united there in Love. We were primarily studying a group of sermons by the Cistercian monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, on the Old Testament Song of Songs (Solomon). I will not attempt to delve into this here other than to say that it demands the sincere hearer to understand these words attributed to John the Baptist in John 3:29-31:
He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.
I apologize to those of you who have no idea what I am talking about. I can only suggest that you–as much as possible–imagine yourself as a happy bride-to-be on your wedding day excitingly waiting for the moment when the minister says, “you may kiss the bride”. Imagine all of the tension, longing, and anticipation that led you to this moment. Now imagine that you were left at the altar. Or worse yet, there was some replacement groom there that you had never met in your life pretending to know you. It would be devastating wouldn’t it? Nothing could console you but the real groom entering and giving you the “kiss” you were waiting for and maybe a thousand more on top of it. This is how I interpret the essence of what St. Bernard was going for in his sermons using the biblical idea that Christ is the groom and His Church is the bride.
Sadness, anger, and desire are what we feel most often when the false groom appears trying to tell us that “he” can satisfy all of our soul’s needs. I can’t speak for my fellow participants in this course, but it is safe to assume that they all can relate to what I am alluding to. That is that “the World” is the false groom. This isn’t a put down to the World, but in fact it is temporary and so therefore can never satisfy the longings of the eternal soul. While in the Abbey, we were in vigorous study and practice. There were five services a day in addition to two conferences with our amazingly gifted Professor who manages to seamlessly incorporate history, academics, and spirituality in a way where you cannot sense a separation in these normally divergent subjects. On top of this there were hours of Silence, reading, and journaling so that our minds were never far from God or the contemplation of God. Consequently, we were experiencing beauty in abundance. There were outpourings of poetry from many of us and heartfelt sharing that invited us each into each others lives with an intimacy that is usually left behind in childhood. In this way, I could say we were living a moment of Grace during that week–a glimpse of the Kingdom.
This may sound like an exaggeration to many and I do not mean this to say that the Abbey itself is somehow more special than any other place in the world. I am only saying that the environment was conducive to this experience and we gave ourselves permission to receive it while there. We let ourselves be the children of God that we know that we are. It was a happy moment that I will be forever grateful for. The only difficulty I experienced was the disappointment in realizing how incapable I am of sharing this experience with others. And again, I do not mean the experience of the Abbey itself, but of the joy of constant communion with the beauty that surrounds each of us at every single moment in all things. We have all but forgotten that God is the All in All. All that is springs forth from God and yet we often do so little to cultivate the awareness of God’s Eternal Presence in every moment of our lives.
Please pray with me as I try to make my life about cultivating God’s Presence in my life. Everyday we are faced with distractions and lies that tell us that we are other than the most beautiful children of God. In my opinion, the sadness we often perceive in this world is a consequence of not knowing our own inherent value. We fight for scraps like dogs under the Master’s table when God has given every single one of us everything we need in abundance. Unfortunately, we must know who we are in order to receive what is ours. When we do not know who we are we often go after what is not meant for us. Then even if we get what we think we desire by fighting, manipulating, and demanding it, once we get it we find that it is just empty. I pray for all of us that we wake up from these empty longings and receive what is truly fulfilling.
I hope this poem below offers something to you in your walk, even if it is just a reminder that you are not alone in your struggles.
S.A.D. – Sadness, Anger, and Desire
They say it’s part of being human
But I don’t want to believe it
There’s divinity in my doings
And I want to receive it
If All comes from God,
How can lack have a presence?
It just seems kind of odd
So I refuse to get it
I go off sometimes
It’s like my soul’s on fire
There’s a battle in my mind
With sadness, anger, and desire
I don’t want to feel them
But they make their presence known
I try my best to heal them
But I can’t do it on my own
Does God trip like this?
That’s my question, so where’s the answer?
How do we get like this?
Can I get back to normal faster?
If All things are One,
What am I supposed to do
When “bad” things happen
And I blame it on number two?
Do I just reject the act
Or the whole idea of “the other”?
Will a mind that’s intact
Just say, “Thank you sister/brother?”
It gets kind of confusing
What’s an enlightened mind to do?
Get caught up in these musings
Trying to determine what is true?
Or do I simply choose to trust
And walk with God in “The Way”
Knowing Truth is a must
What other Word can God say?
That seems to make the most sense
It must be the only Course
There’s no need for defense
If All that Is comes from Source
© Copyright 2011 Pedro S. Silva II