Fall has changed to Winter, at least on the landscape, even if not officially on the calendar.
A few days ago an unexpected snowstorm struck while I was away from home. Driving back, my truck slide into a ditch. I waited three hours for AAA to “extricate” me, but help never arrived. When I re-contacted them, I was informed that “service was suspended” due to many emergency accidents that required critical attention.
While pondering what I might do next, a vehicle pulled along side mine. Winding down the window, a woman queried something to the tune of, “Oh dear! Is there anything I can do for you?” I suggested my home was a “short mile” away, and I’d be deeply grateful for a ride. Without hesitation, she replied, “Come along!”
When we pulled into my driveway, I said to her, “I really appreciate your help. Thank you so much.”
Reaching out and gently touching my arm, she responded, “No, it’s I who need to thank you for giving me the opportunity to do something kind today!” I was taken aback! I pledged to myself that I would complete the “Giving-Circle” when I was presented with an opportunity.
A few minutes after I was safely in the warmth of my home, I recalled my journal entry from October 18th, on the anniversary of my Oblation. I had written the Apache blessing, “Tsiga Tsigo”—“You give, I give.”
Today, November 23rd, I was blessed with the opportunity to spent Thanksgiving, neither with my family, nor with my companion’s. Instead I volunteered at an ecumenical Thanksgiving Dinner at a shelter for those who have no home, whose life is spent living on the street or in shelters.
Unlike my brothers at Mount Saviour, and some Oblates, I seldom rise “in the middle of the night,” but this day I did so that I could assist in preparing our Thanksgiving meal. The day of cooking, serving at table, driving meals to shut-ins, and scrubbing the pots and pans meant so much more to me than I ever imagined it might; I found myself thanking the people for allowing me to serve them—Christ’s Other Self; a gift completing the Giving Circle, which of course will begin anew since the circle is never really “closed.” “Tsiga Tsigo”—“You give, I give.”
I hesitantly bring this up because it might convey an erroneous message: that “warm and fuzzy” works of mercy are what really count in the realm of the spiritual life. Rather, I subscribe to what Philip Lawrence, OSB, of Christ in the Desert has said: we should be leery of “wanting to get on to that which feels good and makes us feel good about ourselves. Our approach must be simply to do the small and apparently easy things until we do them truly well.” However, today had many significant lessons for me, and I do not want to lose them. So I am journaling these, with that in mind.
As I brought a bowl of gravy to a table, a homeless (self-identified) US veteran, from our country’s ungodly war mongering, said to me, “Thanks so much for taking time away from your family today.” Unexpectedly, I responded, “I haven’t taken time from my family since YOU are my family. Thanks for allowing me to spend the day with you.”
“Tsiga Tsigo”—“You give, I give.”
[Sadly, our government overlooks homeless veterans (regardless of my position as a pacifist member of “Swords into Plowshares” and arrests at military installations — I am troubled by how some veterans are treated. Our own government reports that roughly 22 veterans die by suicide per day—a rate of one every 65 minutes. And, on any given night—such as tonight—more than 40,000 veterans are homeless, like my brother whom I served this afternoon.]
Of all the volunteers, very few at this particular shelter were Roman Catholic. This opened an unexpected opportunity to mention what it meant to me to be an Oblate of St. Benedict, and to be a human-rights-centered Catholic Christian, with social justice at the core. I had to smile (and could only guess what several soup kitchen volunteers were thinking) when, while drying utensils after dinner, I mentioned the wisdom of the Rule of St. Benedict, where he reminds us that whether a garden hoe or a kitchen spoon, all things that assist us in “work and prayer” are sacred—and are to be treated as though they were vessels on the Altar. Reverence in the Rule is clearly for both everyday, ordinary items, and for every human being! (“regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar” RB 31. The link between treatment of simply objects and treatment of our sisters and brothers is abundantly apparent: this admonition is preceded by the call to look after the needs of others: “show every care and concern for the sick, children, guests and the poor” RB 31The hoe and spoon, among every thing else, participate in sanctifying the hours of our day, and make holy our activities to the Glory of God. Completing the “Giving-Circle” by performing acts of social justice—in the world, within our families, among our friends, and yes, in the Church, satisfy a similar end.
That serving homeless and hungry might be a sacred act seemed obvious. But, there were bewildered looks from volunteers, as some seemed to ponder the notion that objects of ordinary occurrence, which they had used today: a pot, a pan, a spoon, a scrubbing pad, a mop—might be portals into the sacred….A novel notion; perhaps even a questionable one.
Then one women spoke up, to say that the “concept” was new to her, but, “Wow!”—if we treated things more in this manner, the outcome might be far less materialism in our culture, and simultaneously would help the environment by saving resources that could be better spent, whether on our families or “the needy.”
So, while drying a huge pile of dinner flatware (over 120 people were fed today), the conversation, based on a simple but profound line from the Rule, opened to ideas of stewardship, and resisting “the disposable society” in which we live. I have to admit, a few were skeptical that a “serving spoon” for mashed potatoes might be equivalent to an Altar vessel. But the point for me is this: living out the charism of a Benedictine Oblate can mean opening a dialog on the movement of the Spirit in our world, and in our personal lives at any moment.
The day was filled with events such as these, far too numerous to write about….and beside: I struggle to practice the maxim that silence is the language of God—so I’ll end, after a concluding thought.
In part I could feel in the day, the Holy Thursday Mandatum: “You should wash one another’s feet…I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:1ff).
“Tsiga Tsigo”—“You give, I give.”
John McQuiston, in his book, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, writes: “Live this life and do whatever is done in a spirit of thanksgiving….Come to comfortable rest in the certainty that those who participate in this life with an attitude of thanksgiving will receive its full promise” (pp. 17-18).
“Tsiga Tsigo”—“You give, I give.”
Tonight I’m filled with a flood of thoughts and feelings. Some connected, and some discordant.
If recollection serves me, there is a “saying” of a monastic Desert Father or Mother, offered to a disciple, that prayer has many functions: contrition (forgiveness),
adoration (praise), and thanksgiving (gratitude)—but none are as great
as supplication (petition), for in supplication we acknowledge our total dependence on God alone. In “asking” we abandon our wills, and “solutions” to our self-designed constructions of the world.
I’m uncertain of the precise connection, but today brought to mind the lines: “There are three kinds of souls … and three related prayers: I am a bow in your hands, Lord, Draw me lest I rot….Do not overdraw me, Lord, lest I break…..Go ahead and stretch me, Lord. Who cares if I break?”
For years, praying the latter portion of the trilogy-prayer was a daunting prospect, uncertain whether I really wanted to know God’s response. But, attempting to live out my Benedictine Oblate promises, has opened up the opportunity for me to dare.
Bro. Nicholas, Ob OSB, November 23, 2018