25th Anniversay of Sr. Sherry’s Profession
[Scripture Readings: Sg of Sgs 2:8-10, 14, 16a, Eph 3:14-19, Mt 5:13-16]
Sr. Sherry’s monastic journey as a professed member of you community began twenty-five years ago this year. After twenty-five years Sr. Sherry is still calling herself a pilgrim, she is still on the journey.
When we use the word journey we usually mean a great distance. We never call a trip to town a journey. We speak of the monastic life as a journey not measured by distance — if it were we would look like we were going in a circle—getting up going to church, then to the refectory, back to your room, then to church, then to the chapter room, then to the candy house, back to church—pretty much of a circle with little change of scenery, kind of a boring journey.
Classical literature is not unfamiliar with the journey theme, but there is always a lot of drama involved. Think of The Quest for the Holy Grail, the Exodus, Moby Dick. A good journey story has a departure point, a goal and in between great obstacles to overcome along the way. You have to “beard the lion” or “face the dragon.”
Cassian describes the monastic life as s journey whose goal is the Kingdom of God and in facing the obstacles along the way (ourselves usually) we acquire purity of heart.
This all sounds pretty vague and unappealing so far. There has to be something more to it than this. There has to be something worthy of the human spirit, some goal that we can become passionate about before we can really give ourselves to the monastic journey. There has to be soul or some seasoning like the salt mentioned in the Gospel. Since our journey does not usually leave the confines of this monastery there must be an inner dimension that keeps us going.
I don’t know if you happened to see the article in the “Mailbag” by Sr. Bernarda, a Japanese Sister from Nasu, who is spending some time at Crozet. Her article is about the Japanese word “Ki” which means energy. It is the root of many Japanese words such as climate and electricity, it even means the vital energy behind all life forms and processes. So we can ask, what is the Ki the life force that urged Sr. Sherry to begin her journey as a monastic and that appears to me to be even stronger now twenty-five years later than it was at the beginning.
Sherry chose a passage from the letter to the Ephesians that goes a long way to explain our journey. “May (God) strengthen you inwardly through the working of the Holy Spirit” So, it is an inward journey. The goal? “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith” and then, “May love be the root and foundation of your life”. There it is, the goal shinning like a bright star on the horizon – Christ dwelling in our hearts. Our journey is to our own heart where Christ lives and we live. Thursday at Lauds we had a reading from St. Columban where he says, “let us follow that vocation by which we are called from life to the fountain of life” . We are on a journey from our own life to the fountain of life—the source of life, the center of life—and the vital energy of love drives us on. As St. Benedict says in speaking of obedience “it is love that impels us…” .
Twenty five years ago Sr. Sherry had an intuition that the secret to the journey was the heart. The heart is what we call the place where God’s being meets our being. There we live and move and have our being.
Time does not measure the inner life—our soul, our heart, our spirit does not age. In fact, St. Benedict says his Rule is for beginners. Beginners are usually full of enthusiasm, vitality, Ki. Here is our challenge: to always, even after twenty-five or fifty years to have a beginner’s mind, to have that “tang” that salt brings to food—the salt of God’s word keeping the savor in our life. The opposite of tang is flatness. If salt loses is flavor it is flat—nothing, dust. Boredom or aecidia is the equivalent in our life. This is the dragon we all face.
There is a fire at the center of our life called desire. There is a hunger that is never satisfied. Sherry told me her desire and hunger to know Christ is the greatest gift in her life. She also told me her favorite desert father story is the one about the monk who goes to a senior and explains he is doing all the things monks are suppose to do, he fasts a little, prays a little, lives in peace, guards his thoughts, he then asks the elder what else should he do? The old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven—his fingers became ten flames of fire and he said, “If you will you can become all flame.” Desire, the longing to give and receive love from Christ is like a flame rising from our hearts and running right out to the tips of our fingers. What a wonderful vocation we have to tend the fire that gives light to the world.