Tuesday, October 26, 2010

AN ANNIVERSARY

Ten days ago, after leaving Sewanee, Tennessee, I celebrated an auspicious anniversary in my life. On October 16, 2008, following my retirement, I became an associate of the Order of the Sisters of St. Mary, a religious community based at Sewanee that has made a significant difference in my life on The Mountain. It is there that I was given the space to worship and pray freely without worrying about church program and organization and my place in the hierarchal order of ordained clergy. I didn’t become free from responsibility because in order to become an associate, a candidate must follow a discipline created after the example of the Benedictine order, adhering to it for a year before being installed as an associate – regular prayer, attendance at chapel services, participation in the life of the community, charitable giving…a discipline that covered two pages of my personal rule.

I miss Tuesday Morning Prayer and Eucharist (held at 7 a.m.) and the wonderful Sunday services with a community of approximately 30 – 40 people on Sundays, the community breakfasts with eight Sisters who have become my spiritual sisters for life –The Rev. Sr. Lucy, Sr. Miriam, Sr. Elizabeth, Sr. Mary Zita, Sr. Martha Mary, Sr. Madeleine Mary, Sr. Margaret, and The Rev. Sr. Julian. And then there’s the formidable presence of The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz who delivers Tuesday morning homilies – a tall woman dressed in swirling silk dresses who celebrates Eucharist in her bare feet – and, I am pleased to add, who is a candidate for bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. Each of these people have influenced me profoundly with their individual ideas about the contemplative life and have challenged me to evaluate how well I’m living my life according to the purpose for which God created me. And they’ve done this, not with false piety, but amid much laughter and table talk, as well as within a silence as deep as that of the gray stones of the chapel walls. Some Sundays I preached and assisted on the altar at St. Mary’s, and I’ve also preached at one of their “missions,” Grace Fellowship Church, which is located near the Convent.

I’ve written a lot of “Sisters and Susanna Poems,” as I call them, some of which appear in my poetry chapbooks, RISING WATER and OLD RIDGES. At present I’m working on another book of poetry, and in reading back over it this morning, I find that the poems reflect a heightened appreciation of the natural world. I attribute this expansion to the deepening of my contemplative life, inspired by the Sisters. Here’s one of the poems in the new book:

UNLESS YOU DO IT FOR THE LEAST OF MINE
In this dry month of August
deer enter the woods of the Cumberland,
foraging among dead branches,
pilfering our berry patch,
brazen creatures following the sound of silver
clinking against china on our porch table.
They are absent of grace
in the shadowy face of hunger,
graze on leavings,
glaring at us across the yard,
eying our full plates,
ears raised at each forkful.
We feel their resentment
curdling a glass of milk,
blueberries withering in the bowl of breakfast,
the admonition “feed my [deer],”
a red-letter line spoken
by the world’s best activist
stirring in the sycamore leaves,
spurring us to shop for corn,
before the cullers come with bow and arrow,
before the autumn deaths,
leaves twisting and falling
into bloodspills of the hungry,
those shuddering hearts
and doe eyes glittering with His message:
“you have done it to the least of mine.”
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