Monday, December 28, 2015

Listen into this silence

My path as a monk in the world has literally taken me out into the world. I’m called by God and blessed to travel internationally several times a year, praying for and with the overlooked and neglected people of our world.  I’ve provided basic eye care for rural campesinos in a one-room, dirt-floored school in Honduras,  shared a midnight meal of freshly slaughtered goat, local cheese, yogurt, and melons with nomadic herders high in the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan,  prayed with an Ethiopian family in their round mud hut as the matriarch slowly roasted, hand-ground and then brewed coffee from family grown beans, shared early morning yak butter tea with Tibetan monks in their Himalayan monastery, listened to Bosniak Muslims share the heart-rending stories of violence and death during the siege of Sarajevo.

One aspect of my call is specifically to pray with and for people who live in areas that have been ravaged by war. To slowly, meditatively walk among them praying for peace and reconciliation. To bring healing words and prayers to deep, festering emotional and spiritual wounds. To see the real results of our wars, not the ‘talking heads’ version on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, BBC or whichever slant you prefer. Some of these are old battlefields like the Walk of Peace trail in the Slovenian Alps where over one million men were killed in World War I.  Many are from conflicts during my lifetime – the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam and Laos, the Sandinista-Contra conflict during the 1980s in Central America, the violent, bloody struggle for control of Tajikistan after the Soviet breakup.  My pilgrimage into the world has also taken me into areas of current conflicts in Central Asia and the Middle East.

A few months ago my calling led me to hike a portion of Abraham’s Path through the country of Jordan. This pilgrimage was especially significant to me since Abraham is considered the father of my religion as well as the Jewish and Muslim faiths.  Although we are all ‘people of the Book’ sharing a common patriarch, like jealous siblings, our enmity fuels much of the violence in the world today. The birthplace of these three religions seemed a good place to walk and pray for peace within the family.  The blue United Nations tent camps of the Syrian refugees flooding into Jordan were a constant reminder of my call to prayer.

For several days we walked the same Jordanian foot paths that Abraham is reported to have walked thousands of years ago. We saw the very same mountains and deserts that he saw in millennia long past. Relatively little has changed for many of these people. We shared tea and prayers with Bedouin nomads who still live in goat hair tents driving their camels and goats from oasis to oasis.  We visited ancient stone dwellings which have housed the same families for century after century. Of all the unique experiences my friends and I shared that week one stands out above them all.

On this day our hike led us to some ancient Nabatean ruins in the remote Dana Nature Reserve. We had spent the last few hours pondering 2000-year-old high cliff waterworks and ritual sacrifice sites. I actually sat and prayed in the small caves of Nabatean hermits and monks. But the highlight of this whole experience came, as they often do, with a casual comment from Saleh, our Muslim guide who claims descent from the Nabateans.  As we walked along one of the ancient footpaths Saleh abruptly stopped, motioning for us to be quiet and still. I assumed he had spotted some elusive wildlife he wanted us to see, possibly a Syrian Serin or maybe a Nubian Ibex.  Or possibly a poisonous snake we needed to avoid! As we stood there silent and still for what seemed like an eternity Saleh finally turned to us smiling with joy and whispered, “Listen into this silence”.

Saleh’s simple observation and statement cut through all the gibberish going through my mind.  It brought me back to the present.  It brought me back to an awareness of the presence of God and the awesome wonder of his creation, to the center of my being and my calling to live this silence. It brought me back to my calling to live as a monk in the world listening into this silence and praying the peace of this silence into the lives of those I meet.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015

After your mock prayers

you've never really listened
to what God has always
tried to tell you 

yet you keep hoping
after your mock prayers 
salvation will arrive


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The value of stillness

"Let the remembrance of Jesus be with your every breath. Then you will indeed appreciate the value of stillness."
     -St. John Climacus

Headed into the Patagonia on a PrayerReach adventure. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

but I, prayer

In return for my love they accuse me,
but I continue to pray.
    -Psalm 109:4

In Psalm 109 David cries out to God for vengeance on his enemies. He is being unjustly attacked and he’s begging God to repay his oppressors unmercifully. Not only his oppressors but their wives and children as well. The literal translation of the Hebrew in verse four is, but I, prayer or but I am all prayer. David’s whole being is consumed by his need for revenge.

I can understand David’s heartfelt plea for retaliation. I can understand his rage. When we are attacked and hurting our human response is to repay, to strike back, to protect ourselves. But that is not the way of Christ. Jesus said,
Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from one who takes your things, don’t ask for them back.  Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.

He told us to love our enemies and to pray for them. He lived out this teaching from the cross praying as he hung there dying,
Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.

Brother Robert L’Esperance of The Society of St. John the Evangelist points out that,
Icons of the Good Samaritan traditionally give the Samaritan and the man he rescued the same face. This is something we might keep in mind when we examine the plight of those who go without. These people are the same as us and only their circumstances, at this particular moment in their lives, are different.

The Good Samaritan icon by artist Charalambos Epaminonda
Loving our enemy is one of the great mysteries of Christianity which we desperately need in our fractured world today. Perhaps meditating on these hard teachings of Christ would help us Christians see that the Syrians, the Kurds, the Sudanese, and all other hurting people of our world are not so different from us. Perhaps if we were so consumed with Christ’s love that we became prayer we would see that these people are husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters just as we are. But, like the man who fell among robbers in the Good Samaritan story, only their circumstances are different.

Our rational, human, self-protective instinct is to strike back when hurt,

but I, prayer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Different People

I've somehow messed up the RSS feed on this blog so please click this link to see the Sursum Corda post and manually visit often until I figure out how to get it back going.  Thanks. Monty

This morning finds me in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  As I continue our week of Sursum Corda Thanksgiving meditation on Psalm 138 the last sentence of  passage calls out to me.

Lord, Your love is eternal;
do not abandon the work of Your hands.

As I drop the rest of the psalm and quieten my heart, soul, and mind in this sentence the Spirit brings to mind all the 'different than me people' I saw last night as I walked the Quarter.  As Brother Mark Brown posted this morning:

Even if we have all we need and enjoy perfect health and have accomplished everything we set out to do, just opening the newspaper pops that little bubble. Empathy can and should be an unsettling experience.
     -Br. Mark Brown   Society of Saint John the Evangelist   

They, just like me, and every human are the work of God's hand.  My prayer is for God not to abandon any one of us and for each of us to know, really experientially know, his eternal love for us.

God has made himself more known to me by my being here.  I find peace in knowing that in some inexplicable way my presence and my prayers are helping make him more known in the lives of each of these 'so very different people'.

Please join our Monastery of the Soul online community as together we lift our hearts in praise to God as we meditate on Psalm 138 this Thanksgiving week.