Sunday, May 2, 2010

An Ordinary Week

When I thought about this week, the first thing that came to mind was that there was nothing particular about it. It was ordinary. Nothing outstanding came to mind. Not bad, mind you. Not boring. Just ordinary.

So what do you say about an ordinary week?

So I thought about the guests, who are such a major part of the experience of this place. When I did that, I found that actually I wouldn't describe this week's guests as ordinary. They were as interesting and diverse as our guests usually are. One was a Southern Baptist pastor from Poughkeepsie (think about that for a minute). He pastors a congregation that was established by southerners who came to the mid-Hudson Valley to work for IBM and wanted some religion that was familiar to them. Then when IBM downsized, they returned to the South, leaving the Church as a sort of outpost in these parts. He was a warm, friendly and outgoing man, who was here to do some discernment about going into foreign mission work.

We also have here a nun from a nearby contemplative community who has come for retreat. Her community and ours have had a relationship of friendship for many years, and we share each others' celebrations from time to time, but to have one of them here for retreat is a new experience. It's a nice experience, too. It's very good to get the know her and her community in this way.

We also have 2 monks from a fledgling Benedictine community in Mississippi with us. We first got to know them when one of the brothers, who is a musician, came here for our Flute Master's Classes in the summer several years ago, and the relationship has been growing ever since. Now the whole community - both of them - have come to visit for a while to experience our life and deepen our sharing. Tonight several of us are going to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Woodstock. A very monastic thing to do on a Sunday night. A growing relationship - how ordinary is that? Quite ordinary, of course, full of quite remarkable moments.

An Alanon group that has come yearly for about 30 years now is also here with us this weekend. We have watched them grow (and watched some of them grow old), and they are a very established part of our life in May. And other people, singly or as couples, have come to be here with us. Yes, it's just an ordinary week, full of people who are actually not so ordinary.

I suppose that a week of ordinariness might introduce some boredom into the life. I suppose. But actually that's not the way it takes me, because I just seem not to be inclined to boredom. When things just go along as usual, my mind turns to noticing small things that sometimes go by without much attention paid. I've spent nearly 50 years now listening to the sound of the train whistles and don't pay much attention, don't even notice them most of the time. But last night I found myself paying deep attention to the plaintive wail of a train as it hurtled through the Valley on its way to Albany, and maybe points beyond. It was a beguiling sound that seemed to speak of many half-heard things, and it was a comforting sound. It was good to really open up to it, and to pray for the people on the train, and to wonder if any of them were noticing us as they went by.

And one evening this week just before Compline a bird in a tree just outside the Church sang the most amazing song. I don't know what kind of bird, and I wish I did. It hasn't sung again since that night, but it was sure singing it's heart out on that one evening. Just for just a few minutes it filled the area with an extraordinary sound of beauty, and made me glad and grateful.

I watched the slow growth of the pansies that I planted just outside the sacristy. They are putting out their first blossoms now, and each one is a revelation, in the manner of pansies. They are such wonderful combinations of bold color. With the weather suddenly turning warmer, the plants should begin to grow this week and then the display will get really nice.

The ordinariness also makes it possible to turn my attention more closely to the Psalms as they come and go through the week. What an amazing combination of emotions and thoughts float by, sometimes in the course of singing a single Psalm. People sometimes complain about the completely unashamed way in which the Psalms put all of human experience before God, and before us, but I'm a follower of an English Benedictine Abbot who said: "If you don't cope with the anger in the Psalms, you're unlikely to cope with it in yourself." True for me. And not only the anger, but the sorrow, and the joy, and the complaining and the self-satisfaction and the suffering. The Psalms are truly a mirror in which I behold myself, and I find that in an ordinary time my beholding can go deeper.

In this ordinary week, I found myself giving thanks for the gift of living in this extraordinarily beautiful place. And one evening before Compline I was overtaken by a renewed sense of how lovely our Church is and how deep the atmosphere in it is. And one morning the sky was a really extraordinary color of blue.

Ordinary? I suppose so. But this ordinary week has given me some freedom to see how very unordinary life really is,if our hearts and our attentions are alert. Then we see that the fabric of ordinariness is woven of many colors and patterns and the experiences of an ordinary time is really full of wonders. I love discovering small amazing things!

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