Saturday, March 18, 2006

Me and the monks.

So, for Lent this year, I decided not to give up chocolate or ice cream or driving too fast. (Sorry, Mom!) Instead, I decided to take up a dedicated study of the Bible and my own spirituality. Some days I think it might have been easier to give up chocolate.

The first thing I've done is join in our church's Lenten study: Passport to Easter. (We actually have a blog for it. The link is in the column to the right.) Each day, we read a passage from Matthew's Gospel. We have a study guide with questions and "food for thought". I like having the booklet cause I can write all my thoughts down in one place. Once a week, we meet for a discussion. It usually starts with a question about the last week's readings, but it's been delving into some pretty deep territory. For example, if Jesus was God and Man, then who died on the cross - God or Man? Or did just part of Him die? It's like the angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin debate everyone tries to do in university. No firm answers, but a great journey!

Today was the second part of my Lenten intention. I attended a quiet day of prayer and meditation at a local monastery. I will first admit that I have never stepped foot into a monastery, and was a little nervous as to what I may find. Would it look like a church, or worse, like some kind of chamber? What should I wear? Was my pink fuzzy coat inappropriate? Would I have to speak Latin? Luckily, my fears were as silly as they sound now as I write them out in black and white. (Awkward sentence, but you know what I mean!)

The monastery is actually in a gorgeous old Victorian house in the west end of town. In the corner of a large living room is a small altar, but other than that, it just looks like a lovely old home. (The furniture is a little out of date, but I digress.) The second floor has rooms for overnight guests, and the third floor is for full-time members. The brothers were very welcoming, and were a wide variety of ages. About thirty guests gathered for our quiet day.

The theme of our meditations were prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One brother lead each meditation. We started with prayer, which was a great way to calm our minds for the day. We then had an hour of silence. We could find any spot in the house, and being such a large place, it was easy to find a quiet corner. They had a few suggested guidelines on how to spend this quiet time, so, Bible in hand, I curled up in a cozy chair and opened up a passage in Luke about how to pray. I spent time reading, meditating, and taking little notes in my journal. (I may have the start of a new lyric!) After an hour, we all returned to the living room for a service of Holy Communion, and the second meditation on fasting. I always considered fasting to be all about food and the not-eating of it. But the brother introduced all sorts of ideas on fasting from other cultures and religions. He suggested that instead of simply giving up food, we can give up any thing, any vice, that separates us from God.

In a funny bit of scheduling, lunch followed the talk on fasting. Lunch was also silent. Frankly, a little dinner music would have been nice, but it did kept the calmness of the day intact. Actually, lunch did have one really cool moment. I looked over at a man whose shirt had a logo of St. Thomas's church on it. This is the church in Newfoundland that I grew up in! Dad was the rector there! This man had moved to Newfoundland just after we moved to Toronto, and St. Thomas became his home church! How's that for a small world?

After lunch followed another hour of silence. I jumped into the Bible again, and had a nice little romp through Psalms. Listen, I don't know if this was a certain translation or what, but in this edition, the Psalms talked about unicorns! Seriously! No one ever told me there were unicorns in the Bible. Between the unicorns in Psalms and the giants in Genesis, I'm getting a whole new view on the Bible. No one taught this stuff in my Sunday School!

Our final meditation was on almsgiving. The brother related his stories of living in New York and being repulsed by street people. And let's be honest, everyone who's lived in a big city has had that feeling. He mentioned that, in his past, he never gave money to street people because he figured he couldn't cure their poverty. However, almsgiving is not necessarily about curing poverty, but about relieving the poverty and discomfort of the current situation. We can't fix a street person's life by giving them a dollar, but we can possibly relieve their hunger on that day. If we don't want to give a dollar, we can buy them a coffee or a meal. After all, we all need to eat. We all need a warm place to sleep. We all need eye contact and a friendly smile. It won't fix everything, but it will relieve the weight of that day.

Today was great. I will admit that I'm not usually very good at inviting quiet into my days. I like to fill my hours with music and words and activity. It was nice to slow down and relax into the great silences. To "be still and know that you are God". I will definitely do this again.

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