Tuesday, July 12, 2016

ST. BENEDICT’S DAY A DAY LATER

It is the day after St. Benedict’s Feast Day, but we will celebrate it today, and I got up before dawn and dressed to go out to the Convent of the Order of St. Mary. The Sisters have probably been awake for some time, getting the chapel ready for Morning Prayer and Eucharist. Outside, the temps are in the low 70’s, and July heat will soon climb to the high 80’s on the Mountain. I check to see if our herb garden is withering, then censor watering today, praying for rain so that I won’t run up the water bill. I remember my first July here at Sewanee, how we unwittingly watered everything twice a day and received a water bill totaling $247 one month.

I stand in the yard a few minutes, savoring the mountain air and remembering how lonely I was after moving here from New Iberia, Louisiana where I had lived almost 50 years. I discovered the chapel at St. Mary’s Convent the following year (2008) and became an Associate of the Order after months of practicing a Rule similar to St. Benedict’s, which I have tried to follow since that time – his Rule of “Cross, Book, and Plow,” or “Prayer, Study, and Physical Work.” Many Tuesday mornings, I grouse about getting up at 5:30 or sometimes (but not often) at 5, bathing and dressing before 6:45 when I head out for the Convent.

Today, Victoria and I arrived at the Convent at 6:50, bearing gifts of Communion wine, each holding a jug of wine purchased in Monteagle the day before. We walked solemnly through the chapel to the sacristy, a procession that caused the Sisters to smile and say later that we seemed to be declaring, “Let the party begin!”

Roses had been placed behind the altar; sadly, they are no longer being arranged by Sr. Mary Zita who had a stroke a few months ago and is in a wheel chair. When I wrote my book of poetry In A Convent Garden, Sister Mary Zita was the first poem in the book. She always sits in the chair ahead of me, “an imperishable presence/abiding like a newly-given morning…and we wonder where she learned/the art of flower arrangement/that makes the Madonna smile…” Now, the arrangements are smaller, and behind the simple altar only one vase holds a tiny spray of knockout roses.

In the homily today, Sister Madeleine Mary tells us we need to be like St. Benedict – not about his miracles in which he makes water flow from rocks, or reads the minds of others, or makes oil continue to flow from a flask, but about his pursuit of a life of devotion to God, practicing a non-materialistic existence while reverencing everything. Sister asks us to continue to follow the Benedictine Rule, written in the second third of the sixth century, a discipline to which St. Benedict urged his followers to hold fast, despite the political and religious chaos of his time and that is still prevalent in the post-modern world of our time.

In 2010, Isabel Anders, the author of many religious books, who lives here on The Mountain, befriended me, and together we wrote a mystery set in a Benedictine Abbey in Louisiana entitled Chant of Death. It was enhanced by Isabel’s selection of metaphysical quotes and focused on what it means to live a life of holiness fraught with spiritual challenges. Isabel and I’ve often said that the Spirit wrote this fictional account of life in a Benedictine Abbey, and on this observance honoring St. Benedict, I ruminate on the tale we created while enjoying listening to chant and researching the history of the Benedictines.

This morning, we chanted Benedictus es, Domine, Song of the Three Men, Beneditus Dominus Deus, The Song of Zechariah, and sang Studdert-Kennedy’s beautiful morning hymn, “Awake, awake to love and work! The lark is in the sky,/the fields are wet with diamond dew, the worlds awake to cry/ their blessings on the Lord of life, as he goes meekly by…”

Penny, the Convent dog who is a sub-deacon and a regular participant at Communion, got up during the singing and shook her fur in affirmation; Sophie, the Convent cat, stood outside the chapel door waiting for her turn to sit on my chair, where she isn’t supposed to sit because she sends me into allergic paroxysms. The summer interns, two lovely young women, took turns reading from the Old Testament and New Testament, smiling tentatively at each other when one of them read a passage threatening us with being thrown into an abyss if we don’t behave. We were all there, lifting every voice in praise of a good morning, and St. Benedict must have been hovering close by, pleased that we were recognizing his life, which had edified and inspired us.

Someone had prepared for us a feast of bacon, eggs, blueberry muffins, canteloupes, and grapes, and we sat in the refectory in Community, honoring the saint who had brought us together in this thin place. We felt blessed, knowing that “He expects us to speak for Him,/over and over again/as [He did]…in love.”*

*In A Convent Garden





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