Sunday, January 21, 2007

The (first !) Prior's Column - Sun 21 Jan 2007

Holy Cross Monastery - West Park, Sunday 21 January 2007

At this time of the year when the bell on my alarm rings in the morning it is still dark. I get out of bed in the darkness and take the 3 steps to my window and look out over the Hudson Valley. This is how I begin my day.

At this hour, long before dawn, I only see the Hudson River because I know it's there. It is almost hidden from view by the darkness unless a parked tanker or cargo vessel is there, casting its light on the water...

Sometimes the sky is full of stars, but not usually, especially at this time of the year. In January the sky is usually a blank darkness of cloud. It is very still.

The highways on this side of the river and on the other side, which will be filled with traffic not long from now, are quiet at this hour, with just an occasional car or truck passing by.

On the hills across the river are the lights of some of the homes of Hyde Park. There aren't many house lights at this hour, but a few street lights and security lights outline the neighborhoods. The outlines made by the lights are old familiar friends.

I have begun my days like this for many years now, so I know those lights and those neighborhoods. The people in the dark-hidden houses are familiar too, even though I don't know who any of them are. But I have been praying for them for a long time, in the morning when I have just gotten out of bed, and in the evenings just before I get back into my bed.

They are a presence that is familiar to me and this unknown part of my family has become strangely close to me. Occasionally I get a sense of some need or some pain. But usually those houses and those people are just there, waiting for the dawn as we are and I begin my day by calling down God's grace on myself, on my community and on those people across the river who have become the hidden companions of my journey.

Benedictine monasteries are rooted in a place. For us this place is the Hudson Valley, Ulster County (and Dutchess County which I see across the River) in the State of New York. We are a specific place where the business of life with its joy and pain, its triumph and loss, and all its ups and downs intersects with the unseen presence of God who holds all of it in immense loving arms. This is one of the central reasons for our existence. We are here just to be a place where God's presence encounters this world.

God's presence, of course, encounters the world in every place and in every time. We all know that. But we are people, with physical bodies and finite thoughts and limited horizons and we need places that we can point to. Holy Cross is such a place. People point to this place and say: "Here. God meets me here."

Many of those who come here know what I'm talking about. Over and over again we are told by complete strangers that when they turned off Highway 9W and started down our drive for the first time a sense of peace and otherness met them.

People always ask monks: "What do you do?" There are a multitude of answers to that, but one of the central ones always has to be this: we pray here, so that people can know and feel that God touches this world.

We operate a Guest House. We offer counselling and spiritual direction. We conduct retreats. We go out from here to do a multitude of tasks for the church and the world. But most of all we get up each morning, we look over the River, we open our hearts to the transcendent presence within, we go to our monastery church and we pray and sing and chant.

We do this so that people will know that God touches their world. This is the center of our life as monks and it is our missionary task. We are here for the sake of the world.

Brother Bede Thomas Mudge, OHC


(c) Order of the Holy Cross, 2007

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