St Placid – Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal, part 4

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St Placid Priory – Lacey, WA

Six miles of damp, spongy pavement pounded out this morning. Running – the healing constancy of deep, rhythmic breathing. So good in this environment. It’s little wonder that Portland, Oregon is America’s running capital. Every back road, trail, and alley is afoot with runners. It houses Nike corporation and its disciples, of which I am, apparently, one of the faithful. I’m a committed convert to the marriage of time, distance, and pain. 

Baffling to non-runners, it is, in its own way, contemplative space. And, these days in particular, as I struggle once more on the longest road, the one leading toward daily sobriety, it becomes apt metaphor in the slow process of change. 

Hanging like a shadow over it all are those who would pooh-pooh this whole sober-running enterprise, suggesting in my case that it is classic avoidance – the via negativa of the dry drunk. In this scenario, one merely transfers addiction from one thing to another, trading booze for the self-emasculation of hardcore running.  

“Well, he may be running,” say they, “but it doesn’t mean he’s dealing with anything related to addiction.” To such self-righteous do-gooders who feign any real interest in me preferring, instead, bookish platitudes I offer the following retort(s):

  1. Um, f*** off.
  2. Okay, that was overkill. Thank you for your concern, but…
  3. Do you think I am unaware of this?
  4. Despite the built-in danger of avoidance, is this not much better than alcohol-induced madness?
  5. Give me half a chance to work through this on my own terms, please.
  6. I’m back in A.A., working the steps. I’ve got this. Well, my Higher Power’s got me. So, relax. 

Phew, now that that’s off my chest, some brighter notes.

I’m awash in the effervescence of expectancy. The more I consider who God has made me to be, the passions that drive me, the skills that help me, the more I prayerfully consider my options. What doors and windows are availing themselves through which to move into bigger sky? What new field of dreams might await my conveyance? 

More every year, I believe that so much of this is more our decision than the theologians lead us to believe. Jesus tells us that we gain our lives by giving them away. But to give something away is first to own it. We cannot give what we do not own. Otherwise, it’s just passing something down the pipeline that found its way into our hands. Once we own ourselves, there is real sacrifice, but greater reward, in relinquishing ourselves to love and serve our neighbour.

God has given all of us a vocation. It is for us to discover it. Then, it is largely up to us how to fulfill it. For me, that may be changing. Imperceptibly at first, baby steps toward cave openings through which new shards of light are reaching out, tempting me in. Sitting here in this place, dedicated as it is to the rigour and welcome of the spiritual life, its delightful chaos, there grows in me a light. It is yet dim and inconsistent. But it grows moment by moment.

I want to do all I can to fan it into flame.

 

St Placid – Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal, part 3

In a time and place such as this one is gifted with a bird’s eye-view of the bigger narratives at work in one’s life. That has certainly been the case since getting re-sober and, specifically, at a nunnery where my overworked mouth must be silent.

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St Placid Priory, Lacey, WA

I am further gifted with precious reading time. Double up the task of discerning the peaks and valleys of a life with a reading list and I find myself reading something I’ve not touched in years. Perhaps it is a page turner only to those like me, but I’d forgotten that fact about “the big book” as it is affectionately deemed by A.A. Equal parts childlike, level-headed zeal, and complete lack of pretension put it alongside other great spiritual works. 

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Next to the Bible…this

And that is exactly what Dr. Bill and Uncle Bob’s magnum opus is. In the simplest terms of the novice, it is akin to Augustine’s Confessions or C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy or Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. As honest and probing as any other memoir-retrospective-guidebook, they have no other agenda than telling their life-changing story in a way that draws others like moth to flame into a message of freedom and sobriety. And, they roll it out like excited grade-schoolers at a show ‘n tell. 

But what a show ‘n tell!

I am so grateful to be, once again, sober. Well, on the arduous road of daily sobriety and the mindset required to fight the good fight of staying that way. I am equally grateful for the timeless stories of lives changed under the care of Someone higher and greater than we, Someone I call God.

And, to that God, on this day, I give thanks.

St Placid – Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal, part 2

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St Placid Priory, Lacey, WA

     It is a gift indeed to awaken to a cool, damp stillness, the air thick with green. A pervasive fog has sprawled itself over the lazy landscape, coating everything in the misty otherworldliness of coastal life. The air feels finished, like many of the best ingredients, absent in the Yakima dust, are present here. 

Dear God, how I’m made for this. My body feeds on its wealth. And my dry, wizened spirit is likewise, refreshed.

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Washington rainforest – healing happens here (and some great jogging)

     As I’ve mentioned, I am on a week-long preparation for a vocal procedure later this week that requires total vocal rest and copious amounts of Prednisone. This means of course that I get a robust two hours of sleep every night, during which time I’d prefer to be punching something than struggling to sleep. I guess I thought the nuns here able competitors should things go south. But, despite the raggedy experience of steroids, St. Placid is, if only for a few days, home. And here I can capitalize on the silence in pursuing the attentions and intentions of God. That, and nap, as things would have it.

      When one finally shuts up with words, other more prominent voices become clearer and more pervasive. And once pervasive, persuasive. Gone are the constant interplay of questions that never needed asking in the first place, now requiring answers. The small talk niceties that are social expectation more than interpersonal necessities. The interjections into conversations with your own, much better versions of things. Someone poses a query, whereupon you can sweep in with the most impressive tales of conquest and adventure, guaranteed to impress the room and justify your significance before all present (most of said adventures happened to someone else on your favourite YouTube channel anyway).

     Clear out the clutter and the soul perks up considerably. You begin to rediscover what’s truly precious and real. One’s deepest yearnings reappear in the absence of competition. My soul has much to say these days. And the heart settles into a calm stasis with the God who never left but whose mouth I’ve unwittingly clothes-pinned shut. “Lord, please don’t interrupt while I’m interrupting. It’s rude and I’ll get to you soon enough with my laundry list of requirements, otherwise called ‘prayer requests.’”

      I’m the undisputed champion of drifting in and out of crisis. And, I am again at a crossroads, the intersection of lost and found, good and great, ego and spirit. Historically, I don’t do well there. Knee-jerk reactions to the discomfort of unknowing, uncertainty, and discouragements have left me – and those around me – with many unnecessary scars.

     To be here is, if nothing else, a good jumping off point into the great Silence. Sometimes, just to be convinced anew of things I’ve always known, is enough to offer repose to a stormy heart. I can take myself alongside the likes of Job who didn’t rejoice because God had all the right answers to his every question. He rejoiced in the comfort of God’s presence made manifest after God’s long vacation. God showed up. The rest was icing.

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Road – the best metaphor

     But God did so much more. God helped Job to broaden and expand his horizons toward himself and the context in which he and his God could relate. In short, God annoyed Job with pages of gorgeous rhetoric. Answers came, first, in presence, and second, in better questions which invited him into a relationship of asking, seeking, knocking and, occasionally at least, weeping.

     “Don’t ask that,” God seems to say, “ask this instead.” And, in the process, Job’s little world so fraught by pain and despair is opened wide to see things far beyond his ken. There, he finds renewal, hope, and strength.

     Best of all, Job is justified by God in full view of his overly zealous, preachy friends. They typify those with nothing better to do than toss around Bible verses, which by the way, is the ideologue’s means of proving their own self-professed authority over things they only think they understand.

     God has placed Job in a spacious place and his friends, convinced of their own spaciousness, in their tiny one. Job’s world, now newly gargantuan, cosmic, and mystical, subsumes the quaintly rational question and answer, notebook faith so cherished by the faith police. Mystery brings with it the greatest gift of presence and comfort. Certainty brought table scraps – a soggy bag lunch to a tux ‘n tails banquet.

St Placid – Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal

The next few blog entries are taken from my journal notes of last week’s sojourn at a Benedictine monastery.

*   *   *

Only the slightest whisper of a breeze caresses the ferns outside my window. Although barely 4:30 in the afternoon, the slanted, abstruse light lends a touch of whimsy to the failing day. Evening begins poking her nose around, making her presence known in a clear air, embroidered in light green leaves.

Here in this place I will spend the next three days in silence and contemplation. St Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington. My intentions are simple – complete silence, largely in preparation for a vocal procedure on Thursday morning. But, coincidentally, serendipitously, providentially, I avail myself of this calm serenity at a Benedictine place for prayer, discernment and listening.

To silence the tongue from speaking is in great measure to silence the mind from fretting, the heart from hunting, the brow from frowning, the soul from hungering. It is genuinely remarkable the amount of stress one accumulates through constant chatter. I use words in a thousand ways I never even consider until they’re removed from my agenda. Then, I see just how often words take their place among a virtual hierarchy of internal chaos. I use them to hide both from others and from myself. I use them to impress, to seek validation, to reveal my devastating charm, my stunning facility with any imaginable topic with which I am, of course, an expert. I use words to create pictures of how I want people to see me; how I choose to see myself and the world around me.

James, a New Testament writer of the letter that bears his name tells us how the tongue is a serpent and a raging fire, ever full of destruction. He suggests that it acts as a very small rudder to a very big ship. As is generally attributed to Abba Arsenius, “Oft have I been made the fool having spoken. Never have I been made a fool having remained silent.”

So, speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

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A great place for listening (food’s not bad, too!)

Friday Fragmentia Sacra 3

I’ve just returned from a short time away. A fuller version of my silent retreat at St. Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington is forthcoming. Until then, may this Friday be the kind of day where the scale tells you a fairytale and not the truth, you are complimented at least once, and nothing rides up.

Thursday Fragmentia Sacra 4.jpgIn short, where everything brings you joy!

Saturday Fragmentia Sacra 2

Friends, in light of an upcoming five-day silent retreat I shall be enjoying at St. Placid Priory, this will be my last holy scrap for a wee while. Munch on it or discard at will. Enjoy a morning coffee, an afternoon nap, an evening cuddle with your significant other, and any other little joys to be mined from the beautiful mundane!

Saturday Fragmentia Sacra 2 copy.jpgPeace and love in abundance…R