The past week has been wonderful for reading. I read the entirety of if nobody speaks of remarkable things, a wonderful present from W—and S--, and a book which left me in awe both of the skill of the artist and the world in which we live. I finally finished Swann’s Way. I finished, and then read again, L. William Countryman’s book, Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All, which is about priesthood (both the ordained kind and the more important kind that stems from our humanity) and what it is to live in ways open to the HOLY. I read quite a number of poems by Rowan Williams. I spent a lot of time with the book of Kings. I enjoyed and learnt from Barbara Brown Taylor’s The Preaching Life. I read Edmund Gosse’s biography of Jeremy Taylor, and a large and not overly fruitful chunk of Jeremy Taylor’s own work, including the entirety of Holy Dying, in the fond hope of finding a passage that has been occupying my spiritual life for some time now. I browsed throughout the monastery’s library, and read bits and pieces of a number of different things, about which I will not make an effort to blog. I’ve reread The Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and chunks of de Waal’s expansive commentary on the rule of Benedict, A Life-Giving Way. I’ve started reading Icelander, an amusing and odd mystery novel (“A Nabokovian goof on Agatha Christie,” reads the back), if only because its name sounds soothing in the midst of the heat of summer (though chapel, library, and refectory have been deliciously cool).
I have also read a lot of psalms. Some I sang, some I spoke, and many more I listened to. In one of the books I glanced into there was a story of a Zen master visiting a Camaldolese monastery and commenting on the amount of time the monks spent reading the psalms. The response given to the Zen master by one of the monks was no: we spend far more time listening to our brothers read them to us. We are quiet here, and we listen. This retreat of mine has been about space and about calm, about an entirely different rhythm of life than that which I experience at home. It will be interesting for me to pay attention to how I carry the rhythms of this place back with me. To a large extent, that’s why I brought my copy of the SSJE rule with me, and the de Waal commentary: I want to be more intentional about how I am, and they’ve offered me some help in making sense of how to re-engage the process of reflection on my life. More helpful still was the endless flow of psalms, the wave of scripture read, and the wash of “chapters” that share stories of the saints and our call to respond to God’s love that have enveloped me and made space for me to be quiet.
I have been still.
I have enjoyed the rich waft of cedar that has held me in a close embrace in the chapel.
On my way to and from that space of prayer (and particularly on my way to and from Matins, at 4:00am) I have revelled in the odd smell that reminds me of the strawberry fruit roll-ups that were a staple in my grade school lunch boxes. It took me five or six trips along the path before I was able to identify the smell, and it evoked waves of nostalgia, and makes a fitting image of this time and my reading: a Proustian recollection; an invitation, a la Countryman and Brown Taylor, to look deeper into all things of the world, that we may experience and share our encounter with the ONE WHO IS, a reminder of the transitory nature of life from Williams’ poetry, and a true Benedictine way of being quiet, and listening. Away, I’ve had much needed time for reading and prayer. I’m looking forward to discovering how to carry this experience back with me into the rest of my life: I will be still, in the midst of busy-ness.