The Abbot’s Notebook for January 17, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  It has been one of those wonderful and quiet weeks in the monastery.  Father David Anderson is here, giving us classes on Scripture and Brother Ruzai returned to India for a period of time.  Other than that, everything quiet and peaceful and just the normal routine.  Thanks be to God.

One of the great challenges in the spiritual life is doing the same thing over and over and really believing that things will change.  Not only should we believe that things will change but that things are changing right in the here and now.  If we look at our relationship with the Living God as a love relationship, then this can make sense.  For instance, in a marriage, especially in the early phase of marriage, there is often a strong attraction of love that allows the woman and man to go deeper into their relationship.  Most often that strong attraction of love eventually gentles and is simply a strong bond of love with a deep current of love underlying it.  Things don’t change and yet are always changing.

Over the years I have often used the image of my own parents’ marriage.  It was filled with a strong attraction which gentled over the years into that underlying bond of love in which not much seemed to change but yet was always changing.  It was a great gift to my parents that they had such a deep bond of love at the various times of trial and difficulty.  The alcoholism of my father could easily have destroyed the marriage.  When both my parents were still drinking, it was not as difficult.  When my mother stopped drinking, more or less, then the challenges began.  At one point my mother left my father—and yet eventually their love and commitment to one another brought them together again.  When my father was in an airplane crash and survived but with terribly injuries, the worst injury was that he began to drink again.  Some months later he was in a terrible vehicle crash.  My father was drunk and killed a child and serious injured several others.  That could easily have ended the marriage.  It was the great burden of my father to live for another 35 years with that crash on his conscience.  He served time in prison but came out and took up earning a living and raising his family again.

The question often comes to me:  how much do I love God and how much do I love the community to which I am committed?  I always have this example of my father, who did terrible and awful things, and yet kept on going and trying to do what was right.  From the side of my mother and myself and probably also of my sisters and brothers, it was a matter of prayer and a firm belief that God could change the situation.  Such beliefs often look ill-advised and foolish to others, but in our family, finally, my father stopped drinking and had 35 years of sobriety and the local parish thought of him as a saint.

Sometimes I go walking in the mornings, even now, when it is 17° Fahrenheit because I have to keep walking for my health.  Some mornings I see the slight silver sliver of the moon in the early morning sky when the sun has not yet brought color but only a non-distinct kind of gray to the sky.  Then sometimes I wait for the first spot of sun to hit on the far face of the west cliffs in the canyon.    It is a magical time of day, as long as I can live with the cold.  But it also reflects faith that the moon will be there and that the sun will rise again.  It is this same kind of faith that we must have that God will act, in His time, in the life of each person.  Sure, others can tell me that I am foolish to believe that others can change.  Sometimes I also feel that I am foolish in thinking that I can change.  Yet, deeper yet in me is that faith that God is present in every situation, with His will for the good of each person.  We humans often resist that will of God, yet in time and in eternity, God will prevail and have His way with us.

Sometimes when I am walking I think of a variety of things, as well as trying to keep my heart centered on God in prayer.  I walk out of our main cloister, which many years ago we named Saint John the Baptist, past the old cells which also had that name before the main cloister was constructed.  I walk past the Hermitage of the Peace of Saint Francis, then past Saint Anthony Novitiate, then past Saint Pio Grange for the postulants.  I have passed on the other side Saint Joseph Carpentry shop and the former Saint Seraphim building where I once lived and which is now the shop for making candles and lotions.  Eventually I pass the Saint Paul the First Hermit Hermitage and then down towards the Saint Augustine of Canterbury Hermitage.  I stop before I reach the Saint Francis Hermitage and then walk back, seeing in the distance the Saint Benedict Ranch House, the main Guest House and Holy Cross Hermitage.

We monks here tend to name buildings, but we have not named all of them.  Those small inconsistences remind us that all of life is not ordered and neat and tidy.  Just as our personal human lives are not all ordered and neat and tidy.  Instead we all live in a world that is in process just as we are in process.  It is an incredibly wonderful world if we can see it that way.  Or it is a terribly messed up world going to ruin if we choose to see it that way.  We are free to see God present or to deny God’s existence.  We are free to believe that faith does change people or we are free to believe that we humans are basically incapable of change.

When I was a young superior here, another superior told me never to believe that people can change.  I replied that my own faith and experience had taught me that people can change.  Years later, I asked that other superior if he remembered that conversation.  He told me that he did.  Then I said that I had now come to see that people don’t always change but that with lots of pressures and stress, then can change.  It is sort of like the biblical image that God only makes diamonds in the earth, forming them at high temperature and pressure.  And we are like diamonds that only high temperatures and pressures can change us.

It is a real challenge because of lots of us resist temperatures and pressures.  We want what is comfortable and pleasurable.  Often we can see that we could change but we don’t make the choices to change or sometimes we even find ourselves incapable of making those choices.  For those of us who believe, if we begin to pray for change, often change is possible by learning to accept what is necessary for change.  Sometimes such changes can come about almost instantaneously but more often such changes come about bit by bit and our patience is tested.  We have to keep going and trust that God will change us and we must keep cooperating.

Spiritual life!  Trust in God!  We just keep living and seeking the face of the Lord.

As always I send you my love and prayers.  I will celebrate Holy Mass once this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please continue to pray for me and for the sisters and brothers of all of our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip