Friday, January 29, 2016

Astonished by Beauty

Of all my cloistered retreats, one was particularly fruitful. This was spent in the same monastery the Lathrops visited for A Story of Courage.

As we've seen in our recent posts, this monastery is not in mountains or meadow, but situated right in the hubub of Georgetown, DC.

'There was a lush cloister garden,' I wrote several years ago, 'and it was separated from the streets by high walls.  My plan was to sit with Bible and journal and gather together scattered threads of thoughts and prayers.  The sounds of traffic around?  No problem.  I looked upon those as bits of minor background noise.  I would spend the day with God, in peace.  An ideal set up for serenity.

That is, until the band.

From a campus nearby, there were sudden sounds of an outdoor concert.  A LOUD outdoor concert.  I sat in the garden surrounded by trees, holy statues, birds, and THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD.  Thud thud thuds out of context, setting my nerves on end.  Suddenly, ordinary street sounds began to unsettle me.  How long had there been planes flying overhead, one after another, and so close-by?  The city seemed filled with sirens.  Voices shouted, just outside the enclosure walls. Oh dear.  However could I pray?

And then it was time for Midday Prayer.  A bell rang, the Sisters gathered.  As a retreatant, I joined them.  We began the chant.  One Sister quietly closed shutters to hush metallic thuds.  That didn’t help, but the nuns sang on undaunted.  “O Lord, open my lips”THUDTHUDTHUD“and my mouth shall proc” THRUMP THUDTHUMPTHUD “…laim your praise…”

I was suddenly struck by the incongruity of it all.  Sirens, traffic, shouting, planes, THUDs, chant.

But more than that: I was astonished by beauty.  By the intense, amazing beauty I was witnessing all around.  One Sister said, just before I left, that she was sorry I’d been there at such a noisy time.  Oh no, I assured her; I had been there at the perfect time.

I had seen the analogy of 'the cloistered heart' in a whole new way, not in spite of the noises, but because of them.  No matter what went on outside, the nuns were there to praise God, and they would do it undaunted.

Probably the Sisters didn’t 'feel' very prayerful as they chanted praises they could barely hear, but they were singing to Another, and He could hear them.

Surely there are days when one of them doesn’t 'feel prayerful,' but she comes at the sound of the bell and she praises God.  Why?  Because He deserves it.  He deserves praise and worship with the whole of one’s being.

No matter the noises, no matter the weather, no matter the situations around any of us, God is present.

God is present and He is worthy of praise. Period.




(this is an edited post from our archives)

 

Photos of Georgetown Visitation, N. Shuman, 1990s

This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line.


2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this wonderful series. I have just managed to get online today and find this spiritual oasis awaiting me. Over the next few days I shall go back to the beginning and read slowly - I am already smiling at the thought. God bless you.

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    1. Thank you, Annie. As always, I'm so glad you're here!

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