11 March 2014

"Zacchaeus come down! I am dining with You Today!"

[[Hi Sister Laurel, your approach to Lent sounds complicated. How possible is it for people who don't live contemplative or eremitical lives?]]

Great question. I think the approach sounds more complicated than it actually is. While I am doing a lot of individual things they are meant to assist me to do one main thing, namely, to allow both my heart and my hermitage to be more truly places where God finds hospitality while I rest in God. If you think about having a guest visit you for Lent and making your house and your life ready for that guest, you might find a lot of things need doing (or need to be sacrificed), but really the focus of your efforts is simple: make your place theirs and put yourself at their disposal. If you have hosted this guest before you will probably know what s/he needs and desires from you. In that case you may simply need to improve a little here and there on the arrangements you have made in the past --- though you will also have learned more about yourself and your guest and will find ways to honor that in the present. In a sense that is really all I am doing and all I have really described in What Do You Do for Lent?.

Secondly the questioner for the post I put up lives in a parish where the triad prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are stressed. The same is true in my own, and in fact in the universal Church. This triad runs through all the readings we have throughout the season. My own preference is first of all not to see these as three separate or discrete things we might do but instead as three facets of every genuinely human life, one which is: 1) rooted in and open to God (prayer), 2) concerned with and committed to the really essential while letting go of the inessential --- especially if these latter things bind or make us unfree in some way (fasting), and which is 3) compassionate and generous to others (almsgiving). We are called to be people who receive our lives from God, detach ourselves from that which is inessential or less truly lifegiving to assist in providing both the inner and the outer space needed for both prayer and almsgiving, and go out to share what is lifegiving with others --- on whatever level that is needed. The penances we do during Lent are meant to awaken us to the promise and demands of these three dimensions as well as to make them more alive and real in us the rest of the year.

If you look again at the list of things I mentioned were involved in Lent this year you will see they all fall under things necessary to put my guest first, to be there for God, to really be a person in whom these three dimensions are real and integrated in eremitical terms. Since I do limited ministry it is sometimes easy to forget the purpose of the hermitage itself and to treat it as a merely private place where I relax apart from ministry or the place where I get ready to do ministry. Instead, the hermitage itself is a ministry both to God and in order to remind us all that every home is meant to be a place of hospitality to God and to those precious to God. Archbishop Vigneron referred to this in the homily he gave at my perpetual eremitical profession when he spoke of giving my home over to God. Of course there is great privacy here at Stillsong and relatively few people actually enter here, but even so it remains a quasi public place which is meant to witness to eremitical life and the meaning of the silence of solitude. The life within the hermitage is a relatively relaxed life but not a lax one and sometimes I have temporarily lost sight of this, either in anxious work, or in "just kicking back". I suspect this is often a challenge in contemplative houses and one the Rule and horarium help members to meet --- especially in Benedictinism. In my own case the solution, it seems to me, is a renewed focus on allowing God to find rest here in my home and in my heart while I truly rest in God. That is really what Lent seems to be for me this year.

For those not living in hermitages and not living contemplative lives I think some of the same approach can be adopted, whether with the Lenten triad itself, or in making of one's home (both heart and hearth) a place of hospitality to God and those who are precious to God (one will do so in ways which will involve the Lenten triad). Those who cannot seem to function without bringing work home with them and who, unfortunately, never really rest in the love of their families or create space where their families may rest in their love could certainly find a few things to do which would make life better all around. Those who come home from work, turn on the TV or computer and never spend real time with their families could do similarly. Those who rarely eat together or treat their homes as momentary pit stops along the route of real life could find ways to change this. (Mealtimes are an especially privileged time to be hospitable to God together.) Those for whom spirituality is compartmentalized and is thought to, "belong in Church but not here," could find ways to celebrate Lent which changes this misguided approach to reality (spirituality).

The bottom line questions for the hermit are, 1) are my heart and home places where God always finds a welcome and a place to rest while I find real rest in the heart of God? and 2) How do I allow that to be more and more true each day? It is certainly true that I am not worthy to have the Lord stay under my roof, but as was the case with Zacchaeus, Jesus has called out to me and said that he will be dining with me this day; I try to take that seriously every day I repeat the Centurion's response to Jesus' announcement, "O Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. . ." but I am doing so in a renewed way this Lent. Given the frequency with which we each repeat the Centurion's response to Jesus (Matt 8:8) --- it is done at every Mass and is a summary of a sound Eucharistic spirituality --- I don't think the hermit's question is one which should be foreign to any Christian --- though I suspect it definitely is!