Musings from the Monastery + 2018 (Part II)
May 30, 2018
By the Rev. Jonathan Linman
Assistant to the Bishop for Faith and Leadership Formation
In the final instructions in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle writes, “pray without ceasing”, (1 Thess. 5:17). While it is true that the Holy Spirit is already at prayer in us with “sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), the monastic routine seeks to make this ceaseless prayer more of a reality that we are aware of in our daily lives. Prayer in the monastery is communal, in the several prayer offices and daily Eucharist, and before meals. Prayer is private, occurring in one’s own room. Prayer happens indoors in the chapel, and outdoors amidst God’s good creation. The whole day, from beginning to end – and even overnight in the wakeful night watches – is seasoned with prayer of one type or another.
Praying for You
One of the most important ministries of a monastery is intercessory prayer. The public expression of such prayers finds its focus during the daily celebration of the Eucharist, during which the prayers of intercession go on for a long time, with names being named, and specific circumstances being lifted up. Intercession also continues privately throughout the day.
So it is that I have been praying for you each and every day. You, by name, as pastors, our various deacons, and other leaders of our Synod. You, our conferences and the congregations and ministry settings located therein. You, the committees and ministries of our synod, and other specialized ministries and initiatives.
As I remember you in my daily intercessions, I am thankfully aware of the many gifted leaders with whom our Synod is blessed. I am aware of the many important, creative, and vital ministries and missionary initiatives you undertake.
I am also aware of the burdens you carry. Over the course of the almost ten years that I’ve been on the Bishop’s staff, so many of you have told me your stories, stories of opportunity and joy to be sure, but also many stories of anguish. Know that your challenging circumstances have been weighing heavily on my heart during these days as I offer petitions to God for you, even as I thank God for you and your ministries.
Praying for the World
Prayer happens in the monastery church, but also in the chapel of the great outdoors. I love to sit outside early in the morning and at dusk, as well as other times of day. It’s pretty quiet up here in the grassy and wooded acres alongside the Hudson River – quiet at least by Manhattan standards. But it’s by no means silent.
Most noticeable are the birds, chatting, chirping, and singing busily, especially early in the morning. It’s soothing to listen to the birds. But I am also aware that much of their chatter is about conflict – competition for food, for territory, for sex toward propagation of the species. Even in the comparative quiet, the world of nature is not an easy place. Which leads me to pray for God’s good creation, especially during these days when so much of the natural world is stressed by climate change.
Such prayerful thought leads me also to notice and reflect on the other sounds that I hear in the comparative quiet – namely, the auditory evidence of the burning of fossil fuels in the various loud or quiet sounds of internal combustion engines. The Hudson River has always been and certainly still is a major transportation corridor. Geese flying north at this season use it to guide their way. Then there are the boats of all kinds, shapes and sizes on the river – barges, ships, motor boats, jet skis. And the Amtrak trains that follow the Hudson’s path. And the freight trains I hear in the distance, that eventually also wind along the river. And the planes and helicopters that navigate by way of the Hudson. And the cars and trucks on Highway 9W that parallels the river. And don’t forget the lawn mowers and leaf blowers! It may be subtle in the background, or it may involve major interruptions of the stillness, but the sounds of internal combustion engines of one sort or another are basically a constant. Which leads me to pray again for our busy, striving, anxious world that is burning up carbon-based fuels at a fevered pitch and pace, a burning that is overheating the whole planet. God help us – that’s my prayer for our world.
Learning to be a Grounded Lightning Rod
Many of you have heard me quip that as public ministers we are lightning rods, receiving all manner of energies, positive and negative, from people and circumstances in our busy lives and in our broken church and world. How do we prevent ourselves from being electrocuted by all of this energy? Well, lightning rods are meant to be grounded, so that the energy passes through the rod into God’s good earth where it can dissipate without much danger. What grounds us as God’s servant leaders? Certainly, prayerful engagement with the means of grace – proclamation of the gospel, baptismal life, the Eucharist, confession and forgiveness, and mutual conversation and consolation among brothers and sisters in the faith, which, by the way, is also happening here for me among members of the monastic community.
But quite significantly, sitting still in the chapel before one of the services one day, I happened upon a prayer posture that for me gives a palpable sense of the kind of physical grounding we ministerial lightning rods need. I sat with both feet firmly planted on the ground, with my hands resting on my thighs palms up, my back straight, not slumped (which is my more usual default posture). I tend to feel anxious, stressful energy in my head, neck, and shoulders. Then that energy often settles in my gut, with seemingly no place to go, and makes me feel sometimes as though I have an ulcer. Yet, with my new-found prayer posture, the negative energy has a place to go. I feel that energy descend from my head, neck, shoulders and gut through my legs, into my feet, and dissipating into the ground, where it belongs. I also feel the negative energy evaporate from my uplifted palms.
This, even as I felt God’s life-giving energy surging up into my whole body from the ground and descending through my palms up in receptive mode. What a difference a simple discovery of a prayer posture can make! Such a way of sitting for prayer is not new – but the lived experience of it was new for me. When I bring this well-grounded physicality to liturgical prayer, this enriches that prayerful experience all the more. Thanks be to God!
My time here at Holy Cross Monastery will soon draw to a close. I will then look forward to soon traveling to our Lutheran Monastery in Michigan, St. Augustine’s House. But the real test of this whole experience will be how I manage to integrate important features of monastic spirituality into my life and ministry in our Synod. The proof will be in the pudding. Or “you will know them by their fruits”. (Matthew 7:16a) So it is that I continue to invite your prayer for me, even as I continue to pray for you!