Sunday, 11 August 2013

Dressed for Action

GospelLuke 12:32-48 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.

  ‘Sell your possessions and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

  ‘See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. I tell you solemnly, he will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them. It may be in the second watch he comes, or in the third, but happy those servants if he finds them ready. You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what hour the burglar would come, he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house. You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

  Peter said, ‘Lord, do you mean this parable for us, or for everyone?’ The Lord replied, ‘What sort of steward, then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Happy that servant if his master’s arrival finds him at this employment. I tell you truly, he will place him over everything he owns. But as for the servant who says to himself, “My master is taking his time coming,” and sets about beating the menservants and the maids, and eating and drinking and getting drunk, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful.

  The servant who knows what his master wants, but has not even started to carry out those wishes, will receive very many strokes of the lash. The one who did not know, but deserves to be beaten for what he has done, will receive fewer strokes. When a man has had a great deal given him, a great deal will be demanded of him; when a man has had a great deal given him on trust, even more will be expected of him.’

I have just returned from a few days away; one of which was spent in and

around the ruins of Tintern Abbey - a 12 century Cistercian Abbey resting venerably on a turn of the River Wye surrounded by its heritage of water mills, inns and converted houses and shops. On either side the hills are covered by the ancient broadleaved Forest of Dean; paths leading to the even more ancient Offa's Dyke that was built to separate the Kingdoms of Powys and Mercia in the 8th Century. One path leads to a rocky limestone
outcrop known as the Devil's Pulpit - a viewpoint that the Devil took full advantage of to try to lure the monks from their vocation and where an equally ancient Yew deserves a tale of its own as it wraps its roots and limbs tightly around a limestone plinth.

It's a place where the timescape folds like origami in and around itself; the sounds of the visitors soaking into the atmosphere like the ripples of pebbles in a deep pool.

In some places (thankfully not here) actors have dressed as monks and lay brothers; attempting to add authenticity and historic connection to the surroundings. Generally it doesn't work; without the spiritual awareness; the 'monks' sing Elizabethan madrigals from the centre of woven labyrinths and speak of boredom; cold and being dragged out of bed. 

The attitude of service does not sit well in contemporary minds; there is always someone else who 'does'. Taking it easy is an affirmation of personal status; settling into a comfort zone where, again, the world revolves around us.

The attitude of service suggests subservience; a willingness to be less than another; to know our place; to be open to criticism.

The attitude of service calls for ambition; to eye the green-ness of the other side of the fence; to check the wheels of our aspirational bicycle. 

The attitude of service in contemporary times would race out of the studded wooden doors of the abbey and up into the forest shimmering with green tinged raindrops. 

The monks knew otherwise. The monastic life was based on the Two Great Commandments; they knew the need for service in community and purpose in service. They followed the Benedictine Rule, whose motto is ' ora et labora' - work and pray. 

They knew that that part of the cure for soul sickness or 'accidie' was a pattern of prayer that continued, even if the words were like 'ashes', in the rising and singing of the Divine Office seven times day from 2.00am to 9.00pm. They knew that their gift to the community was hospitality - the welcoming of the stranger;  the care of the sick and the orphan and providing of work and shelter for those in need.

Their vocation, their life, given in service to both God and man may have involved cold, endless routine and early mornings. More importantly, it involved the weaving of a pattern that bound discipleship, relationship and joy.  

In the ideal of monastic life lay a heart that knew the value of Love; a mind alert to the needs of the world; a life lit by desire for God and God's desire for  all beloved children. 

This is the life we are meant to live; contemplatives in the everyday. Finding community in our neighbours; our virtual families; our awareness of others and even in solitude. 

This is the life we are meant to live; despite boredom,failure and fatigue; for it is not what we do for ourselves but what we do for others that will be measured.

This is the life we are meant to live because this is the life our King lives and our 'place' is with him. 

In the liquid silent presence of Tintern, the calling is always to look up. 

The stone rises,  defying its nature, to an open sky; framing and silhouetting God's creation that surrounds it,  yet holding and encircling those that stand within. 

A thin place - a place where, for a moment, the Kingdom is a heart's beat away.



Claire Bangasser said...

Beautiful, Word. Beautiful, thank you.
I have visited Tintern Abbey many years ago. It remains with me.
This must have been a beautiful time for you. How lovely :-)

Phil Ewing said...

Thanks Word- for sharing these fruits of your experience at Tintern so wonderfully.Blessings

Gelli Ma said...

Thanks both, I visited in the winter when I was the only one there.. Wondered if the atmosphere would be the same with the summer visitors. It was.

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