Sunday, April 5, 2009

The World Comes to our Doorstep

It's not unusual for us to have a lot of people here. And often the guests are quite a mix of humanity. But this week was unusual. At the beginning of the week we had a quiet few days with just a handful of people, and they were an interesting assortment: among others there was a priest and his wife from Toronto, here for some relaxation and spiritual refreshment, another priest who is having a sabbatical time from her parish in Iowa and is here to spend the end of Lent and Holy Week with us, and a young man who is on his way to Bangladesh for 3 years on a service project organized by the Mennonite Church. He was here to be quiet and reflect on what the next 3 years will mean to him, to get himself together for his adventure - and to do his laundry.

Then the weekend came and with it quite a pile of guests, with one of the most widely (not to say wildly) diverse mix of people that we've seen in a while. There was a group from a parish in a small city in western Massachusetts, here on their first visit. We also had a boisterous 12-Step group composed of people from all over this part of the Northeast. They have been coming here twice a year for nearly 20 years, and are some of our most devoted friends. Then, just to round things out, there was a Vestry from a Caribbean-American parish in Brooklyn and a group of teenagers from Princeton. The racial, cultural, age and social mixture would have been hard to enlarge on.

Two of the groups were organized by people who regularly come here themselves, the Massachusetts group by a priest who has been a friend and associate for years and who organizes groups to come to Holy Cross wherever he is - this time in rural Massachusetts - and a seminarian from Princeton Seminary who comes each year on the seminary retreat, and is now bringing kids to see what a monastery might be like.

It was a huge group, for our capacities. Every room was filled. The refectory was full at meals and so was the small dining room that we use for overflow, and some of us were eating at various places here and there at one point. The number of dishes to be washed was prodigious and the coffee flowed like the mighty Hudson. It was a perfectly Holy Cross sort of week. It has been exhausting. It has been exciting. It has been inspiring. And the Palm Sunday liturgy was really marvelous.

I've been contemplating our guests all week and as I watch and turn them over in my heart I marvel at how many reasons there are for people coming here - as diverse as the people themselves - and what kind of search each of them is involved in. And I got some direct reflection from the Toronto priest whom I mentioned. His name is Tay Moss. He is an old friend, as are his mother and his 2 sisters, and he's an Associate of Holy Cross. He has been coming here since he was in college. He lived here for several summers and was instrumental in developing the computer networking that we presently use. He was married here. He refers to us often on his blog, and when he got home this week he wrote again:

"On my mind this evening--the feeling in my gut that this time is precious. Precious for how it can change me. Already I can feel the Pavlovian-like reflexes toward holiness kicking in. Already I've prayed, kneeling with arms outstretched in front of the chapel high altar, for openness. Amazingly I got my answer right away: "of course!"

"You have to be careful about what you pray for around here. The results can be terrifying in their sweep. I suspect the reason for this is partly situational--prayer is answered here because it can be answered. It's the nature of the place that people are more receptive but also that they have the supports in place to deal with massive upheavals. I've known many guests who have gone through massive internal changes while here. I often thought that those changes had been the works for a long time, but here the person finally had permission to change.

"I'm very excited about being here. I can't wait for Matins (Morning Prayer). Such a relief to be here" (if you're interested, check out Tay's blog).

Then, for a very different approach to the inner search, I cast a loving glance towards the 12-Step group. Religiously they range the whole gamut from devout to uninterested. Spiritually they are - individually and corporately - amazingly alive. They are deeply devoted to us, respectful of our life and its meaning, and they feel that being here is part of each person's own journey, whether they share our particular approach to faith or not. They are totally committed to decreasing the amount of suffering that each one of them causes for themselves and for the people around them, and they have a great sense of the place of God in all of this. I have known and loved several of them for a long time.

As Benedictine Monks we are here to engage in a search which is called the Monastic Life. As Holy Cross we live this out by a determination to create a place where anyone can search for God or search for their own Self. It's quite amazing how many people respond. And the mix of ages, races, cultures and beliefs of those who respond keeps getting wider and deeper. We're not a large community, but we seem to mean a lot to a lot of people. Spending my life here has given me more than I could even have imagined, and it keeps getting more exciting. Holy Week will no doubt bring more to experience and think about.

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