It's the time of year when it gets harder and harder to convince oneself of the virtues of a good old fashioned winter - especially when you wake up, as we did this morning, to another good old-fashioned blanket of snow all over everything.
Even I, who am an unabashed lover of winter and of snow, felt my heart sink a bit as I looked as the lovely soft white cover all over everything.
And yes, it was lovely, white and soft, but. . . . The piles of snow and ice that the plow has left are still nearly head-high in some places. And we usually have Snow Drops blooming a couple of weeks before this, and this year the bed in which they are planted has 8 inches of ice on top of it. And This Has Gone On Long Enough!!!
So much for the rant.
This is supposed to be a column about what it's like to live in a monastery. So I can begin by saying that what it's like is that we get tired of winter just like everyone else. Some of you may find that consoling, and some will find it irritating, but it's the truth.
Next, one of the things one does as a Benedictine Monk is to apply him (or her) self to noticing what is around, especially to signs of life and of hope. Sure, it's a gloomy experience to wake up and discover that there has been yet one more damn snow storm in the night. But what else is there? What signs are there?
Well, as we were standing in the sacristy waiting for Mass to begin this morning, the clouds parted and the sun came out. And everything was suddenly different. The gloom lifted. It was really beautiful. The minute the sun shone the snow began dropping off the limbs of the trees, and that was a nice little sign. By the time Mass was over the driveways had melted nicely. And if you opened a door and stepped out, the birds were singing.
A few years back a friend pointed out to me that the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, which is February 2, is the day that the birds start singing their spring songs, and it has become a wonderful spring ritual for me to go outside on that day and hear the new year begin in song. That feast must have been an old pagan festival that Christianity took over and replaced with its own feast, but that kind of observation reaches back into the early history of human beings, and that moves me greatly, Long before Jesus, or Abraham for that matter, people were noticing the date that has become February 2. Life returns.
And if we wait long enough the Snow Drops will bloom. They are incredible little flowers. They produce a tiny amount of heat and sooner of later they melt their way to the surface of the ice pack and come up right through it - I've seen them do it before. I watch for it every year.
And our Guesthouse is full of people who have come here for a variety of reasons, but at least some of them - perhaps a good many of them - are seeking God's presence, or at least discover themselves confronted with it once they get here.
There are a couple of parish groups here this weekend and a group of students from Swarthmore College, which is a sign of hope all in itself. The students have been in silence all weekend (well, except for Texting) They come every Spring - Episcopalians and all other kinds of Christians, a Buddhist or two, some seekers, some agnostics, some with no label at all. It is a great privilege to welcome them and let them see our life.
Last night after Compline I lingered in our Church, as I sometimes feel moved to do. And the Church was filled with a huge and gentle Presence. It was so strong that it just about slapped me across the face. And interestingly enough, I wasn't the only person who noticed, because there was an unusually large number of guests who lingered for quite a while after Compline. A number of them were the students. The silence and the Presence caught me and held me, and was obviously having some effect on a number of others. When the time came I took myself off to bed, leaving a small number of people still there.
To live in a monastery is just this - to look for God. And then to share what we find or what we have with others. In the case of Holy Cross it means spending our time and efforts operating a Guesthouse and sharing our meals with several thousand people a year. Other monks teach, or do social work or counseling or any of a number of other things.
But the life is just that - to seek God, and then to share what you have found. And today I share the gloom and the joy one finds in a lingering winter, and a Presence that found and held me last night.
And I share it chiefly so that you will reflect on your own search and what you have found. After all, it's unlikely that you would have read this far if you didn't have a search of your own.