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As It Is

Ecclesiastes 9: 11-18

16 So, although I say that wisdom is better than strength, nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised; nobody pays attention to what he says.

17 A wise man speaking quietly is more worth heeding
than the shouts of a ruler commanding fools.
18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but a person who makes a mistake can destroy much good.

Galatians 5: 1-15

You who are trying to be declared righteous by God through legalism have severed yourselves from the Messiah! You have fallen away from God’s grace! For it is by the power of the Spirit, who works in us because we trust and are faithful, that we confidently expect our hope of attaining righteousness to be fulfilled. When we are united with the Messiah Yeshua, neither being circumcised nor being uncircumcised matters; what matters is trusting faithfulness expressing itself through love.

Matthew 16: 1-12

A wicked and adulterous generation is asking for a sign? It will certainly not be given a sign — except the sign of Yonah!” With that he left them and went off.

I’ve been gone on vacation and retreat for two weeks and have just returned to my empty hermitage. The Lindisfarne Community has traditionally held its retreats at Casowasco Retreat Center in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. It’s a beautiful spot, and this was my third time attending the retreat. Before I go on I have to say that I am very aware that I am only at the beginning stages of processing all that has happened in the last few months and all that happened at the retreat, along with many conversations with my sister which have yet to be absorbed into my understanding.

At any rate, I had many opportunities to listen to ‘wisdom spoken quietly’, and I made the most of it. One of the most affecting things at the retreat was the ‘charge’ given to the people being variously accepted as novices, professed, ordained, and installed as prior and prioress. The speaker quoted from Thomas Merton’s “The Sign of Jonas” and it hit me hard: “The night, O My Lord, is a time of freedom. You have seen the morning and the night, and the night was better. In the night all things began, and in the night the end of all things has come before me. Baptized in the rivers of night, Gethsemani has recovered her innocence. Darkness brings a semblance of order before all things disappear. With the clock slung over my shoulder ... it is my time to be the night watchman in the house that will one day perish.”

In part, the person giving the charge said this: “_____, I charge you to be as a night watchman in the house that will one day perish, to be as one who watches in the brooding, expectant, Samhain dark of night. I charge you to be vigilant, alert to the in-breaking of God’s light into consciousness and to do your part to awaken a sleeping humanity to the dawn of hope. In the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians, “It is the God who said: ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

As a watchman, _____, you are also, as are you all, an alchemist of spirit. May you all watch your vessel closely for the slow changes, from earth to fire, working within your own soul and learn how to better help others to that secret place. I charge you each to grow your contemplative discipline, so that you are not only yourself closer to the Source, but that you are able to share your insights with others. Allow the growth of your gifts to enrich others, and to radiate from you like ripples on the lake we are blessed by this weekend.”

During this retreat I also ‘took refuge’ and received the Buddhist precepts, and was given the Dharma name of ‘Sokunin’, which means “As-it-is Person”. In this ceremony I dedicated myself to living intentionally according to the Lindisfarne Community’s understanding of the practice of Zen Buddhism embedded in the Way of Christ.

The phrase “a night watchman in the house that will one day perish” keeps on echoing deep within me, along with something a sister contemplative said during the Sunday Eucharist before we all “left and went off.” She spoke about the Japanese art of mending broken things with gold. I had a vision of myself sitting on a bare wooden floor surrounded by shards of broken pottery. The image of fragments melded together with lines of shining gold into a new whole filled my mind for a moment, and I found myself helplessly in tears. Someone brought me a Kleenex. Even as I write this, I find tears welling up again.

When I read the readings for today, I felt a silent but certain linkage take place within me, down in that ‘secret place’ where the soul’s alembic simmers and distills its essence from earth to fire. In that place the alchemical process is known to be this:  trusting faithfulness expressing itself through love.”

In these gray cinders

threads of gold still burn—

an unforgotten fire.

The beginning

of an unhurried epiphany

is still hidden in the dark of night,

in the belly of the whale,

in the depths of chill earth.

Freedom to remain

as it is

unending; unbegun.

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