Notes from my silent retreat: 3:15 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.
June 3rd 2015
The day began at 3:15 a.m. Startled by the cell phone buzz; zzz; zzz.
Downstairs for a shot of coffee, off to the church.
I adore night vigils. Silhouetted monks return in endless rhythms, praying yet again while we sleep. For us.
The Divine Office grinds our home-grown kernels of wheat into leavened Bread for the Sacrifice.
What gritty psalms we pray in the night. Lamenting, groaning, pain, fury, rejection, pleading. I cry aloud to you, O only hope of Israel. There is none to rescue me, save you. Remember your promises, O Lord. Do not cast me away. Let me hear rejoicing. Have you forgotten us?
And those dissonant harmonies, troubling their monotone cant. Haunting, an unreconciled blend saved for the pitch black night. Makes the psalms stick to your bones. Makes you long for a resolve. How long?
A reading from the Book of Wisdom: Folly or wisdom, you choose.
The lights extinguished, vanished.
30 minutes of dead silence. I can hear my breathing.
My mind playing with the words I’ve just heard.
Memories of my life outside flash – no, crash – in. A mix, painful, joyful. I turn them all up, then over.
“Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you” comes to mind.
Silence slowly becomes a thirsty vessel, an unspoken consent.
More psalms. A reading from St. Gregory Palamas – who knew? – on virtue.
We’re sent: Let us bless the Lord.
Two hours till Mass. I step outside. Let me gather my life up for the coming Sacrifice. A procession of faces, requests, struggles, fears, smiles come to mind: “My son-in-law. For strength. He’s in despair, needs hope. We’re getting married, for fidelity. She’s afraid, for peace. That I’ll know what to do next.” “Yes, I’ll pray for you.” I must. I am. Fitfully, buoyed by small acts of love. I can hear a pin drop. I pick it up for those faces, with love.
I can hear outside awaken as dawn breaks: cardinals, chipping sparrows, chickadees, towhees, catbirds, barn swallows, a wood thrush, to name a few. Their uncoordinated chorus seems a psalmody: “Bless the Lord!” The birds return in endless rhythms, un-waning joy, greeting dawn as if for the first time. The crickets, too, now fade away as they complete their night watch.
These all I gather for the awful Sacrifice.
Is it not all under my dominion?
I, priest of nature and grace, boundary of Old and New, lift all things now back to God.
“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.”
The sun rises, its warm rays sifting through the tangled slash pine needles.
I can feel a cool breeze – from the east, I think.
The monastic bells toll, calling laborers to return in endless rhythms. To offer.
Into the church we stream, called out from our scattered lives, gathered into One.
The Sacrifice has begun. I brought my Bread.
The Dawn from on high has broken. I can see it through the stained glass.
Let us rejoice.