An Early Morning At Mepkin Abbey (Part Two)

mepkin church

…The community of prayer aids my weakness. When I was mind-weary yesterday, I was helped through trusting others who prayed with and alongside me, around me, for me. My solo prayers were not the whole show. Performance mattered little. Participation mattered most. I realize that we are proclaiming the Word of God across the room to each other – we are all preachers, all hearers, no “stars”.

We sing antiphonally this morning, Psalms 103, 104, 105. One side chants, the other responds, two or three lines at a time. Two or three notes are all we use, carried by the murmur of the organ played unobtrusively by Abbott Klein, who was an accomplished musician. The organ notes almost echo our breathing, like the quiet motion of tides.

So we chant on: a hymn for Lent about our joyful fast. We are reminded that long faces do not attract God’s grace – he wants us to lift the load, to help the broken on the road. And we are reminded who made us, gave us eyes to see the full moon and stars this night. This is a long psalm about Joseph and Egypt, so long that we break it up, chant and cease. An aged brother with a long white beard takes on the role of cantor. We sing again.

Lights dim. We listen to a long reading from Exodus about plagues of flies, about gnats all over Egypt – but not in Goshen! “This is the finger of God”, the panicked musicians tell Pharoah. Has anything changed in the Middle East?

In the Moses-Pharoah encounter I hear the lifelong struggle in my own soul between God’s voice and all others. The little compromises – “Go, but not too far”, says Pharoah -with which I deny reality, fudge the truth.

I think of plagues in our lands. Traffic in drugs. Large numbers who experience depression. AIDS in Africa. Lord, when will we heed Moses?

Long silences. Waiting. No rush to fill emptiness with words. Time to think, pray. I am astounded at how clear my mind is at this hour in church!

A sermon is read – well – from  Gregory of Nazianzus, about God’s generosity, given which how can we refuse kith and kin?

Silence again.

I thank God for the ministry of World Vision. Think it is time to give again. Wonder whether Jeanie and I are generous enough to the larger family of God in the wills we are making.

Our final prayers. We stand, say the Our Father, commend ourselves to God. We remember those who work (or suffer) in the night, we ask that Christ be their companion. We remember those who have died in the Lord.

We leave as quietly as we came. But the Great Silence is not over.

We walk silently together to our rooms, across the open spaces, under the night skies, past the bowing live oaks.

There is no word.

I touch a fellow retreatant in unspoken greeting as he goes to his room and I to mine.

The silent communion goes on.

Tomorrow what will I be doing at 3 a.m.?

 

From The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford, 2008: Inter-Varsity Press)

Photo cred: mepkinabbey.org

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