The final leg of my journey was the most eye-opening. I had hoped that my week’s pilgrimage would end with positive memories. Instead, I experienced anger, turned to sadness, transformed yet again…
Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen to what it intends to do with you. ~Parker Palmer
9/1/17 Holy Cross Monastery, in West Park, NY, is a beautiful historic property overlooking the Hudson River, and the delicious meals are prepared by trained chefs from the Culinary Institute of America. That was an unexpected bonus! My room faced the rising sun, so morning brought first light beauty. This community observes “The Great Silence” from 8:20 p.m. – 8:30 a.m., so the monks and retreatants eat breakfast in silence. While eating, a few of us noticed a breathtaking sliver of rainbow shining in the blue sky over the Hudson.
This place is very different from my other monastic visits. So near to NYC, yet so peaceful. I listened to birds and crickets and saw calming water, yet also heard Amtrak trains regularly transporting people to and from major cities. Many of the people staying there were from NYC and desperate for a break from their chaotic lives. One of them was a man from Egypt, now living in the Bronx. He seemed eager to learn from me about contemplative prayer, so I shared some of my knowledge. When it was time for me to leave the monastery, it became clear that he didn’t want me to go, and he tearfully asked if there’s any chance we could meet again. This is very difficult for me to write about, but he felt a deep emotional connection to me. I was shocked to experience this and am thankful I had the sense to stay in a public place. Trying to think of what to say and stumbling for words, I reminded him to listen for where God’s voice is leading him. I quickly reached out to shake his hand, then hurried down the hall to the bookstore to settle myself and tell Br. John what had just happened. He knew the man and said he’s had some pretty serious hardships. I was really upset to have this memory of the monastery and to realize that people in the world are so needy of love and of being listened to. It’s difficult to open our hearts in faith without exposing our vulnerabilities.
It was time for me to drive into Boston to meet up with my husband and daughter. Moving day for all the students! Thinking about my week, especially what happened during the past 24 hours, I thought, did I listen too deeply? No. That’s just who I am. It took me days, maybe weeks, to realize that I had just experienced one of my favorite quotes:
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. ~Frederick Buechner
My deep gladness is to listen and share stories of God’s presence in our lives, to help others learn how to listen for God’s voice through contemplative prayer, and to help them discern where God’s whisper might be leading them. What I had not experienced until now was the deep hunger of another child of God, the desperation in his eyes when I said good-bye, and my sadness at not being able to do anything about it except pray that God leads him home. So many of God’s children hunger so deeply. May we use what brings us deep joy to reflect the light of Christ to others, spreading God’s love in the world.