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Posts Tagged ‘Monastic Culture’

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Thomas and the Virtue of Doubt

Among the apostles I find Thomas to be perhaps the most curious and thoughtful.  While the others quickly confessed their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, Thomas alone hesitated.  Unless he touched his wounds he would not believe.  And furthermore he wasn’t about to believe solely on the testimony of his fellow apostles.  After all, could anyone really trust the word of disciples who had run away when the chips were down?

But was there more to Thomas’ doubt — something he did not share with his more impetuous colleagues?  It’s entirely possible, and it had to do with what might come next.  It was all well and good to affirm his belief in the resurrection of Jesus, but what might come next?  Would there be other shoes to drop?  Would Jesus ask of him things he was not yet prepared to do?  Would Jesus ask too much of him?  That may help explain why Thomas doubted.  Certainly he had doubts about the risen Lord.  But Thomas had doubts about himself too.

A5C6B58B-532D-4C6C-8C57-90282ACBD891At the Easter Vigil we participants in the liturgy renewed our baptismal vows, and in the creed that we profess on Sundays we do much the same.  And while those statements were crafted long after Thomas professed his faith in the risen Lord, they mirror the words of Thomas.  They are our way of saying “My Lord and my God.”  They are our way of saying “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.”  They are our confession that we don’t always know what the Lord has in mind for us; but despite all this we believe that the Lord will walk alongside us on our earthly pilgrimage.

In our culture doubt can seem to be a flaw.  When unquestioned self-confidence seems to be the ideal, we often see doubt as a sign of weakness.  And yet I would submit that doubt is actually a gift.  Doubt is part of any solid relationship — be it with a spouse or a friend or even with God.  Doubt is part of any pilgrimage that is going somewhere wonderful, because when there is no doubt then there is no adventure.  And there are certainly no surprises.  Do we really want to live a life in which there are no surprises?

The Acts of the Apostles demonstrate that it’s okay and perhaps even wise for us to doubt now and again — or often.  Thomas doubted and on that doubt he built a relationship that blossomed and flourished.  As for us. If we had certainty about everything and doubts about nothing, then we might misunderstand what it is the Lord asks of us.  Given that, we could very well panic and look for some sort of detour.

So it seems to me that doubt is not so bad a thing.  There is virtue to be had in doubt.  However, there is one doubt that Jesus invites us to put aside, and it has to do with his promise to be with us —  always.  Never for a moment should we doubt the word of Jesus, who plans to walk with us, even until the end of time.

746CB303-6CDC-4C31-9648-56FA6D63BDB9NOTES

+My week began quietly and ended with a flurry of activity.  On April 25 I flew to White Plains, NY, located a stone’s throw from my destination, Stamford, CT.  In the umpteen years of flying to Connecticut for school and then for work on behalf of Saint John’s it had never dawned on me to fly into that airport.  I am truly amazed at how oblivious I was to geographic reality.  But this discovery also shows that learning is a life-long opportunity, with lots of rewards.

+On April 28th I gave a presentation on The Saint John’s Bible at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Darien, CT.  Following that I preached at one of the services, and today’s post is an excerpt from that sermon.  I have passed through Darien many times but had never stopped there.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience, and among others I met a couple whose grandparents are buried in the abbey cemetery at Saint John’s.  I would go back to Darien in a heartbeat!

+While the fire at Notre Dame deeply touched me and all those who revere that church, it also served as a reminder of the great architectural heritage that France shares with the world.  Among my favorite churches is the medieval abbey of Saint Remi, in the city of Rheims.  The cathedral there overshadows this Romanesque structure, and visitors seldom walk the half-mile to see it.  But like so much in France, it is well worth the extra steps.

+Today I leave for the annual pilgrimage of the Order of Malta to Lourdes.  That may explain my preoccupation with France of late.

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Holy Week — A Time to Pray Together

I first met Egeria when I was in seminary.  I didn’t meet her face to face, of course, since she lived in the later 4th century.  So what I learned of her came via the pages of her diary, and among other things those pages provide the earliest detailed account of the Holy Week liturgy in Jerusalem.

I have to give Egeria a lot of credit for her gumption.  It wasn’t easy for her to set out from Spain at a time when there wasn’t much in the way of a travel industry to serve tourists.  She and her retinue may have been wealthy, but they still had to improvise along the way.  So while we modern pilgrims may complain about unfamiliar food, cramped buses and the jammed streets in the old city of Jerusalem, we have it easy compared to her.  She and her friends had to deal with life on a more basic level.  Still, despite the hazards of the route, Egeria’s narrative inspired droves of people to follow in her steps.

37E8FAD9-EAAE-4840-8670-EB1372D6ECE9I also give her credit for her liturgical stamina.  Holy Week liturgies in Jerusalem went on and on and on.  But they did so because there was so much to do.  They were filled with chants and readings and prayers and processions;  and taken together they must have left pilgrims exhausted.  But therein lies the attraction.  Holy Week in Jerusalem was an awesome experience, and it changed lives.  And part of what transformed people was the common experience that welded individual pilgrims into the people of God.

I always recall Egeria during Holy Week.  It’s not because the abbey church will be jammed tightly with pilgrims, as Jerusalem can be.  Nor will our liturgies go on endlessly, though they will be leisurely and lengthy.  Rather, the experience of worship together will somehow shape us into the people of God.

Many years ago I attended the Easter Vigil at a small Catholic church in Wales.  Designed to hold about a hundred, that night nearly 200 of us managed to squeeze ourselves in.  In true Welsh tradition the choir of eight voices sounded like fifty, and together we accomplished something we never could have done had we prayed alone.  We prayed together, and as we huddled together in that tight space we became the people of God.

The important thing about Holy Week is the participation, alongside others.  Holy Week is not something people should do all by themselves.  And if some parishes or even monasteries fall short when it comes to the music or the size of the crowd, that’s of secondary importance.  It’s our praying together that forges us into a community.  It’s the readings and hymns and the presence of fellow pilgrims at our elbows that shape us into the people of God.

During this one week of the liturgical calendar it’s important that we pray together.  Nothing compares, and praying alone just can’t hold a candle to it.  So this Holy Week I encourage you to join some local congregation in praying the liturgy of Holy Week.  Better still, do what Egeria did: take some friends along for the experience.

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+This was not a good week for travel, and it all turned out to be a mixed bag for me.  My only commitment this week was to deliver a talk sponsored by the Program in Catholic Studies at the College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth, MN.  It was to be an overnight trip, but it morphed into three because of a major storm.  For starters I went a day early, just to make sure I would get there.  On the day of the talk everything in Duluth was closed or cancelled, including my talk.  Snow, 55 mile per hour winds and fifteen-foot waves on Lake Superior were good enough reasons to close things, and I couldn’t argue with that.  But the snow continued for yet another day.  So one day became three days, and rather than a public lecture I delivered the talk to my hosts, the Benedictine sisters of Saint Scholastica Monastery.  They also pressed me into saying Mass for them, since their regular chaplain could not make it.  So I made good use of the time.

C74B4248-160C-4D35-ADDF-4F5C057FF635However, there was a one sad note.  On the drive to Duluth, on a two-lane road, a car about a quarter-mile ahead of me crashed into two oncoming cars.  One of them burst into flames and the driver died.  For a half an hour there was no place to go other than to sit still and watch the dense black smoke.  Finally the highway patrol diverted us onto ten miles of dirt and gravel roads, which finally led back to the Interstate.

+On Saturday April 13th a goodly number of oblates and friends of the abbey joined us for evening prayer.  That same day seventy Latinos from neighboring parishes came to Saint John’s for a day of retreat, led by Fr. Ephraim and Brother Mariano.  Then on Sunday the 14th I presided at vespers in the abbey church.

+Work on the expansion of the organ in the abbey church continues, and a recent update hints that installation might begin as early as this summer.  In the meantime last week I had the chance to see the practice organ in the music building on campus.  Built in 1988 by Casey Marin, who is involved in the current organ project, that organ serves students and faculty in the University.  On the occasion of this visit I went with Brother Jacob, who is shown at the keyboard.  Music, of course, figures prominently in the Holy Week liturgies.  Most notable is its absence following the Holy Thursday liturgy.

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The Lord Comes in Disguise

”Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up;  while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”  (John 5:7)

I can’t imagine what it must be like to sit and wait for help for 38 years.  So there’s a part of me that pities the crippled man sitting beside the pool of Bethesda.  But then there’s also part of me that wants to suggest to him that after 38 years it may be time to try a new strategy.

Because the man had been ill for 38 years, we might assume that this story is not about us.  We’ve all had our illnesses, but most of us haven’t had anything like that.  But what if the story really is about us?

B2F32306-18BF-4DEE-9B36-0397DA8BB251Metaphorically we can all waste big chunks of our lives.  Metaphorically we can all sit around and wait for the dramatic intervention that will change the course of our lives.  And when that doesn’t seem to happen, we just sit and wait some more.  And all the while Jesus walks by, day by day, quietly inviting us to get up from our mats and do something.

If we don’t see or hear the Lord’s invitation, is it because we’ve become blind or deaf on top of everything else?  Or is it because we expect the Lord to barge into our lives with a trumpet blast or a gold-embossed invitation?  I would offer that it’s pointless to wait for those, simply because the Lord generally doesn’t do business that way.

The fact of the matter is, Jesus tends not to make dramatic guest appearances.  Rather, as he said on more than one occasion, he will be coming in the form of the least of our brothers and sisters.  So the next time we look up from our mats to see who’s walking by, it may very well be the Lord — in disguise.

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+On April 2nd I presided at the abbey Eucharist.  Today’s post is a variation of the homily that I delivered that day.

+Currently I am in the course of staying away from the airport for an entire month.  Months ago I knew that February and March would be hectic, and so I marked off the month of April to stay home and get other things done.  Among those “other things” has been a thorough cleaning of my office, which I try to do at least once a year.  This spring my goal is to clear everything off of the floor, except for the furniture.  In the course of that I’ve found some neat stuff, and also a bunch of stuff that has made its way to the dumpster.  This exercise is a good parallel for what we might consider doing with our lives during Lent.  With several days left in the season, there’s still time to do something.

This also turned out to be a fortuitous time to stay home because my car got recalled for the repair of the air bags.  Since I never use them I hadn’t realized that they were not well.  Anyway, for seven days my car has been in the car hospital, but the prognosis is good.  I’ve not visited it, but the mechanic says it will need neither intensive care nor hospice.

+On April 6th sixty students and faculty from Saint Olaf College visited the abbey and while here joined in our Saturday Eucharist.  It was nice to add their voices to ours when it came to singing.

+It should not come as a surprise that nearly-contemporary artists should render sacred themes with different emphases.  In today’s post I’ve included four paintings from the National Gallery in Washington, DC.  At top is The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John, Saint Jerome and Saint Mary Magdalene, (1480), by the Umbrian artist Pietro Perugino.  Second is a crucifixion by the German Mattias Grünewald (ca. 1475).  Below that is one by the Venetian artist Paulo Veneziano (ca. 1340); and at bottom is a work by Francesca del Cossa (Ferrara, ca. 1473.)

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What’s Your Favorite Law?

The other day I asked my confrere Fr. Lew what his favorite Church law was.  I’d never asked anyone that before, and as soon as I shut my mouth I thought better of it.  Where in the world did that question come from?  What was I thinking?

Lew was nice about it, and his answer came without hesitation.  “That’s easy.  The one-hour fast before communion.”

It’s not what I had expected from him; but on the other hand I really didn’t know what to expect, for one good reason.  We monks don’t spend a lot of time sitting around discussing Church law.  It’s not because life is too short.  Rather it’s because the days are too short.

As anyone who’s read the Gospels knows, issues of law cropped up regularly in the ministry of Jesus.  Certainly Jesus was no lawyer; but any time people push the envelope when it comes to religious practice then they better be ready for a heavy dose of push-back.  And Jesus most assuredly pushed the envelope.

FE3E7B69-008F-4751-9BAA-63AA45A7021EThere’s no denying that Jesus had to walk a fine line when it came to his teaching on the law.  Time and again he denied that he had come to abolish the law.  After all, he’d be the first to say that lawlessness tends to bring out the worst in people.  In the same breath, however, Jesus didn’t want to inflate the value of law in religious life.  Correct observance of the law does not give people the upper hand in their relationship with God.  Upright behavior is nice enough, but it never puts God between a rock and a hard place.  When all is said and done, salvation remains a gift.  It’s not a reward earned by those who have been good at least 51% of the time.

If the law is not an end in itself, then what’s the point of it?  I would submit that it’s a covenant that binds us together in a common way of life.  It’s a shared ethical standard.  It points out ways of acting that offer support to one another.

Not surprisingly, Jesus was not about to dodge the question when people tried to pin him down.  And he answered by resorting to a supreme irony: he actually maximized the importance of the law.  Certainly the Ten Commandments had normative value, but were they the be-all and end-all of God’s law?  Perhaps not.  And so, in as many words, Jesus responded with his own trick question:  “Which of the commandments is greater than the command to love God and your neighbor as yourself?”  From my vantage any answer but “none” should get you in a lot of trouble.

3DDFEE6B-B6E8-4918-A2FB-E1B8E3BB61B3So what about the business of fasting for one hour before communion?  Is this another instance in which a secondary law assumes an importance all out of proportion to its real value?  It depends.  On the one hand there’s something positive to be said for this law.  After all, it’s important for all of us to fast for several hours each day.  If we didn’t then we’d all put on weight like crazy.

But there’s an even better reason for fasting before communion.  Fasting for an hour serves as a time-out in the business of life.  That one hour is a reminder that we all need to get a grip on ourselves.  It reminds us that we each have purpose in our lives, and in the Eucharist we celebrate that transcendent conviction.  In the Eucharist, then, we affirm our love for God and for our neighbor as ourselves.

So Jesus chose not to evade questions about the law, because he wanted to make a larger point.  The law does not exist for itself.  Rather, it exists to shore us up in our daily pilgrimage with the Lord and with one another.

NOTES

+On March 26th I presided at the Abbey Mass, and today’s post is an expansion of what was a much shorter homily on the subject of the law in the teaching of Jesus.  At that Mass I prayed for my friend and colleague from the Order of Malta, Sheila Carmassi, who  passed away recently after a long illness.  No doubt the Lord has already welcomed her into the gates of paradise.

9FF23F12-BE05-4075-B71A-F36ABB6D387C+This last week we received word that our confrere Father Michael-Leonard Hahn successfully defended his Pd.D. dissertation.  This fall he will return from his studies at Boston College to teach at Saint John’s University.

+Recently Abbot John appointed Brother Simon-Hoa Phan to a term as subprior of the monastery.  Brother Simon-Hoa is a member of the art department in the University and has served for several years as a faculty resident in one of the residence halls.  This July he will move back into the monastery, where no doubt he will catch up on several years of sleep deprivation.

+Because of the cold nights and bright sunny days the maple syrup season is well under way in the Abbey’s forests.  These conditions stimulate the flow of the sap up the trees during the day and down into the roots again at night.  Once the temperatures stop dipping below freezing at night, that’s the end of it.  So it’s a narrow window.

+Today is the 400th post of A Monk’s Chronicle.  Frankly, I never thought I would have that much to say, and my one fear has been that I will accidentally recycle an old post.  Hopefully that has not happened yet.  All the same, regular readers know that pet peeves have shown up in new wineskins.  Thanks for reading!

+This last Sunday was Laetare Sunday, which urges us to rejoice because Lent is half over.  I can think of no church that encourages exuberance and rejoicing more than Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and today’s photos illustrate it.  Whether visitors are believers or not, it simply takes your breath away.  For an enlarged view, click on each photo.

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Don’t Get Lost in the Wilderness

”Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?”  So protested the Hebrews in Exodus 17: 3-7.  It wasn’t the first time that they’d cornered Moses with their complaints, and it wouldn’t be the last.  This time it was about the water, and the lack thereof.  Other times it was about the wretched food.  But I think more than anything else it was uncertainty about the future that fed their discontent.  Where in the world were they going?  When would they get there?  Would they ever get there?  Who knew?

Moses felt the stress too, and so it should come as no surprise that he repackaged their complaints and passed them on to God.  “What shall I do with this people?”  Clearly forty years in the desert were no picnic, and even Moses had to wonder how it would end.  Had he known that he would never set foot on the promised land he might have turned around and gone back to Egypt.  But he didn’t.

359E78ED-67A4-40AF-A4BA-DBE6095AEC8FWe all have our moments of uncertainty.  We have our doubts.  We have our spoken and unspoken fears about what will become of us.  And concern for the future can easily transform our days into aimless wandering through a metaphorical desert of our own making.

These moments dog the firmest of believers, but all the same many people are stunned when they realize that the most respected of saints can share the doubts of the ordinary believers.  People should not have been surprised to learn that Mother Theresa wandered through her own spiritual desert, for example; and yet they were.  In her letters and diaries Mother Theresa described long stretches in which God seemed absent from her life.  It left her desolate and spiritually alone;  and yet she kept up her routine of serving the poor and those in their final moments of life.  And in those determined moments she finally glimpsed once again the God who had been beside her all along.

Lent can be our own wandering in the desert.  It’s that planned digression during which we refocus on the source of meaning in our lives.  Are our days pointless?  Do the little decisions that we have to make each day have some purpose or direction, or not?  Lent is when we learn once again that even the baby steps and the smallest of gestures matter — and they matter because we are indeed headed somewhere with our lives.

1F59AAA8-5554-4747-8D70-9325598CC1DDOne of the great ironies of their forty-year trek through the wilderness was likely lost on the Israelites.  Most of them, like Moses — were not destined to set foot into the Holy Land.  But as sad as that may seem, what really matters is that they wasted so many of their days on complaining.  They frittered away the hours, because they never quite realized that the journey has as much meaning as reaching the destination does.

The same is true for us.  Easter is an ultimate goal, but walking with the Lord in the here and the now is when the path to meaning and fulfillment first takes on some clarity.  It’s when we slowly open our eyes to our destiny to be with God.  But we need not wait until Easter for the full vision of the risen Lord.  Why?  Because it’s on the paths of Lent where we discover that the Lord already walks beside us.

NOTES

+On March 24th I make a presentation on The Saint John’s Bible at Saint Philip in the Hills Church in Tucson, AZ.  It was a nice experience, though my only regret was that it had not come a month earlier when it was really cold in Minnesota.  This time I hated to leave, since this weekend the temperatures inched toward 50 degrees for the first time since November.  It was too nice to go.

43E140B2-66D3-4164-B063-6505A387489D+In the popular imagination Lent is a time for the doldrums, matching the dreary pre-spring landscape.  However, there are moments when deliberate breaks come in the liturgical calendar, and mid-March offers three feast days that effectively call a time-out in the season of penance.  On March 17th we celebrated the feast of Saint Patrick, with all the gusto that a once-German community of monks can muster.  On March 19th we celebrated the feast of Saint Joseph, and on March 21st we celebrated one of the two feast days of Saint Benedict.  There can never be enough of the latter in a Benedictine monastery, and so we also celebrate his memory on July 11th.

+March 25th just happens to be the feast of the Annunciation, which once again takes the liturgical focus away from Lent.  At the top of today’s post is a stained-glass panel of the Annunciation, made in the Lower Rhine, in ca. 1520.  Below that is a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, carved in the Eastern Alps, ca. 1220-1230.  Next is Christ on the Cross, carved in Cologne in ca. 1370.  Finally, the bottom two photos are The Golden Panel from Saint Ursula, made in Cologne ca. 1170.  All of these items are housed today in the Schuntzen Museum in Cologne.

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God Asks More of Us

Fans of Mel Brooks fondly recall the movie scene in which Moses has just descended to the foot of Mount Sinai and he’s eager to tell everyone about his chat with God.  Toting three bulky stone tablets on which are inscribed the law, he excitedly announces the terms of the covenant to his fellow Hebrews.  “Behold, the Lord has given us these FIFTEEN — (crash) — TEN commandments!  Who knew that Moses could think so quickly on his feet?

For the record I want to assert that I don’t believe that this is how Moses edited the commandments down to ten, but that’s where it’s been ever since.  It’s a convenient number;  they’re not too complicated;  and for the most part those ten are not all that hard to follow.  I for one have had no trouble with killing people or major theft, but I’ll admit some difficulty with calling down the wrath of God on certain other people.

05B9F330-E6F0-4B45-A217-A41960B78017However, the relative ease of keeping those ten has always troubled me.  Why did God set such a low bar for us?  Why didn’t God ask a little more of us?  Did God in fact expect more us and only intended that the Ten Commandments be little more than a good start?

A few days ago I happened to read Leviticus 19: 1-2, 11-18, and then it hit me.   God did have bigger plans for us, and the Ten Commandments were merely the start of some much more demanding standards.  The passage begins with commands that the Hebrews already knew.  “You shall not steal.  You shall not speak falsely to one another.  You shall not swear falsely by my name.”  But then come some real surprises that weren’t in the original agreement with God.  “You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.  You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.”  Moses goes on to list several others, but two in particular stand out as pretty demanding, at least in my books:  “Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty….Nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.”

2FF7DFB7-FF25-4895-A7E6-8A8547F95799Had those been in the final draft of the commandments I’m not so sure I would have rubber-stamped them.  Those require a level of self-awareness that challenges the best of us.  Therein is the point of the covenant.  God doesn’t want a bare minimum of observance but prefers instead a commitment that is transformative for us.  God asks the best of us, and the Hebrews should not have allowed themselves to be lulled into thinking that God would stop with the first edition of the Ten Commandments.

Of course Jesus took it all one step further.  While ten was a nice number, he was content to pare back the number to two.  And if by chance that sounds like a pretty good deal, consider this.  Is it easier to refrain from killing and stealing, or easier to love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself?

If Jesus sets a pretty high bar for us, it’s good for us to take that into account in our Lenten observance.  On the one hand it’s important to set achievable goals, and if refraining from treats or one of life’s other little pleasures is part of your Lenten regimen, well and good.  But a bit of perspective is always in order.  Those little disciplines serve to remind us of the noble and beautiful lives to which God calls each of us.  God expects more of us than we might imagine, but that merely shows God’s confidence in us.

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+On 11 March I flew to Fort Myers, FL, where I spent the week visiting friends and alumni of Saint John’s.  The week began with a reception which highlighted our Immokalee Scholarship Program.  This May the first two students from Immokalee will graduate from Saint John’s, and one of those seniors — Alex — spoke to our group on March 12th.  As he has on other occasions, he did a superb job.

+On March 17th I said Mass at the home of an alumnus in Naples, FL, and twenty-five people were in attendance.  This is the second year I’ve done this, and we are now scheduled to do it again next year.

+The photos in todays post show some of the extraordinary scenery of Petra, in Jordan.  It is  a 1st-3rd century city, with a half-mile canyon entrance that was featured in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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We All Have Too Much Stuff

Recently a friend of mine shared a photo of a sign announcing a yard sale.  The wording was brief, unsentimental and to the point:  “Our stuff can be your stuff.”

Actually the composer of the message economized by resorting to a nice four-letter word rather than the five letter stuff, but all the same the message came through loud and clear.  The owners seemed determined to get rid of a truckload of junk, and if pressed they might even pay browsers to cart it off.

Those homeowners are not alone in having too much stuff, because it’s true for the vast majority of us.  Most of us accumulate and hoard, even if done unconsciously.  Left unchecked, however, the gradual accumulation of stuff can enslave us and even squeeze us out of our homes.

E85EE367-F9A8-4638-B9A9-A73CCF01215AMy own need for stuff hit home on the eve of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  In the days leading up to departure I agonized over what I should take along.  After all, I had no idea of what I might need to survive two weeks in the Holy Land.  Only later did it dawn on me how silly my fears were.  Why would the part of the world that invented international trade no longer have stores?  How absurd to think that I needed to assemble a miniature caravan to drag all my possessions along!  Needless to say, I convinced myself that there were no stores in the Middle East and that I needed clothes and a personal pharmacy worthy of long-term residence abroad.

Not for the first time did I return from a trip with half the stuff in my bag unused and untouched, save from what comes from packing and repacking a half a dozen times.  Once again, I realized, I had been the person who accompanied my baggage on a trip, rather than the other way around.  Nonetheless, I thought, the trip would have been impossible without all that stuff in tow.

Last Wednesday we began the season of Lent.  Like my sojourn in the Holy Land Lent is every bit a pilgrimage.  It’s a time when Jesus invites us to take an inventory of our lives and dispense with some of the self-imposed burdens that can make life so difficult.  During Lent we can rediscover that it really is possible to get by with a lot less than we had imagined, and we can appreciate the benefits that come from traveling through life with less.  When we travel unencumbered we actually get where we’re going more quickly.  Even better, we travel less distracted by the burden of all that material and emotional stuff that we tote around with us.  That’s when we begin to realize the reality of what Jesus meant when he said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  It really is when compared with the burdens we like to impose on ourselves.

C1D426D9-DAD9-4A7D-9CF9-1C951A7DFF13If we begin Lent with the depressing thought that we are carrying around just too much emotional and material baggage, then it’s time for housecleaning.  After all, life doesn’t require that we travel like beasts of burden.  We should never assume that all that stuff is absolutely indispensable and that our lives would be impossible without it.  Jesus in fact suggests otherwise.

On our recent pilgrimage we made a stop at Mount Nebo, where Moses gazed across the Jordan River to the promised land which he was never to enter.  Moses was the quintessential pilgrim, and as a nomad he had little choice but to travel lightly.  So it’s a real stretch to imagine him dragging a U-Haul with a ton of possessions necessary for life in the desert.  It just didn’t happen like that, and it would have been impractical anyway.  He was too busy serving others.  He simply had no time to be a beast of burden in service to his own stuff.

So what’s the take-home from all of this?  If our lives may be too cluttered with stuff, and if we’re dragging around way too much personal baggage, then it may be time to have a mental or even physical yard sale of our own.  And there’s no better time to do so than on our pilgrimage through Lent.

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NOTES

+In last week’s post I mentioned several unexpected encounters with friends during a short stay in Boston.  The trend continued once I arrived in the Middle East.  You can imagine our mutual surprise when I and a fellow board member from Saint John’s came face to face at a hotel restaurant in Jerusalem.  That evening the world became smaller than we ever imagined.  On the plane back to the US I got to meet the president of Sierra Leone, and I even invited him to visit Minnesota.  That in turn led to a pleasant conversation with the shuttle driver at the Minneapolis airport.  He too had been born in Sierra Leone; and while he had not met the president, he had a few choice adjectives to offer about him.

+On 9 March I gave a talk on The Saint John’s Bible at Chapman University in Orange, CA. I was honored to be the main speaker at their annual Founders Day celebration.

+One of the most pleasant surprises of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land was an introduction to the Roman city of Jerash, located in Jordan.  It’s one of ten cities built by the Romans in the region, and for that reason they were collectively called the Decapolis.  There are references to them in the New Testament, and Jerash is the best-preserved.  It is worthy of a visit because it shows the outlines of a Roman cityscape better than Rome itself.  I was mesmerized.

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