Sometimes things happen very unexpectedly. This is hardly news, but I think that often we have a tendency to think that it shouldn't be that way in the spiritual part of our lives. This week I came up against a completely unlooked-for moment when I was least prepared for it. Maybe that's exactly why it happened.
I'm getting over a cold. Right now I'm in that state that sometimes comes after a viral illness when my strength is very hard to get back. I feel great otherwise, but I haven't yet got any stamina. I'm in a good place, but very weak. I feel like I don't have the energy for even the simplest task.
Last night I was even more wrung out. A group of our Associates were here this weekend, so that has meant a lot of socializing and quite a few conversations in addition to everything else the day held. All of that took energy that I felt like I really didn't have. After Supper we had planned a reception for everyone. But when Supper was finished I went first to my room to lie down for a while, because I couldn't manage any other way. When I had a little rest I joined the reception for a time and then when it had begun to wind down I helped with the clean-up.
We finished all of that about 20 minutes before Compline. As I headed down the hall from the Guesthouse I was really feeling done in and I knew I was going to need some more rest. I decided to get to my room and lie down again, and I wasn't at all sure that I'd get back up for the Office when the bell rang. Where I really needed to be was on my mattress.
I went past the Church and glanced in as I went by. Someone had put on the lamps that we use for Compline and the light was low and the Church looked warm and welcoming. I love our Church at night and sometimes seek it out just to be there for a while because I find it so comforting. For me it's one of those Thin Places that I talked about a couple of weeks ago. But last night as I went by it got more explicit. It said: "Come in".
I hasten to make clear that I wasn't hearing voices. It was an entirely intuitive experience. But it was quite clear. An invitation was being issued and I heard it. I thought: "That would be lovely, but I can't manage it. I don't have any energy to put out. Just the amount of strength that it would take to get a bit centered is more than I have. This is an invitation I will have to politely refuse. As much as I love being in our Church at night, I'm not doing it this time."
The Church was having none of it. "Come in" it said.
"No!" I replied.
"Come in." it said. And all of the time I walked along the passageway that leads around the outside wall of the building it said: "Come in".
"Well," I thought, "it would appear that this isn't your usual thing. Looks like something 1s being offered. Maybe I can find a way to accept even with no energy." So when I got around to the other side of the Church as far as the north door I turned aside, put on my cowl and went in.
The light was soft and it felt good to be there. I took a seat in the gallery at the back. I was by myself for a few seconds and then one of the brothers came in and then one of the guests. The 3 of us sat there for some time in the silence that bathed the place.
It didn't take any time at all to know why I was there. The Church was full of a Presence. That's the only way I can describe it. Even saying the word "God" would be too limiting for what I found myself encountering. It was just a full, lively Presence. It was in motion, whatever that means. I guess it means that it didn't feel static. It was gigantic and it was The Divine, and it was also the sound of generations of monks who have chanted in that place and it was also the monks themselves. Maybe it was an angel or two - or two hundred. Who knows? It was the heavenly host. It was Life itself.
And it didn't require any energy to be there. I wasn't called in there to put out energy that I didn't have. I could just rest in what was being offered. I didn't have to take the energy to focus, because focusing wouldn't accomplish anything. All I had to do was be there, and let myself be filled with the Presence, the Life that had invited me in.
And as I did that, I realized that my exhaustion was vanishing. I was still tired - very tired. But that sense of having nothing left was slowly leaving. One kind of energy was being replaced with another. What a gift it was to be invited into that place, just when I was weak enough to actually perceive what was there.
Then more people came in and the bell rang and I went to my place in choir and Compline unfolded. Again I didn't focus - I hadn't the strength for that. What I did was just let the Office unfold and roll over me. And as it did all the familiar phrases penetrated my mind:
"that you will be our guardian and security",
"Hear my prayer, O God",
"for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see",
"as we sing your glory at the close of this day....."
And then I went peacefully off to bed and to sleep. I'm very glad I said yes to the invitation.
I will not haunt the Church at night looking for it to happen again. However tempting that might be I know by this time that it's futile. Whatever was offered was for last night. Period. Trying to recreate spiritual experiences is a waste of good prayer time and can be a serious delusion. Tonight's experience will be different and probably much less interesting. But it will be whatever is offered tonight, and tonight I need to be with tonight, not with last night.
But I will ask myself whether there is a point in not summoning up so much energy when I go to pray. Might it not be just as good, or even better, to just be in that space and let what is being offered wash over me? Is that why the invitation came, at precisely the time when I had no energy to resist what was being offered? Do I just need to be there? Am I being shown that the energy I use in focusing might be a block to deeper prayer? Some exploration is in order.
One more thing. I wonder if those of you who pray would offer a prayer or two for a very small child in Arkansas named Lynley. She has the H1N1 virus and when her dad called me Friday night her fever was over 104, her pulse was 181 and she was having trouble breathing. I don't have to tell you what her parents are going through. The fever is better controlled now and that has made the other problems recede, but it's still serious and there is still a chance of pneumonia. Her dad was one of "my" kids when I worked in the Youth Ministry of the Diocese of Kansas and he and I are still in touch now and then. He'll really appreciate it if people are praying. And, of course, there are a bunch of other kids in other places in this country in the same situation who could use prayer as well. Thanks.