Friday, April 17, 2009

What Happened the Day After the Resurrection?

What happened the day after the resurrection? The day after the world had turned inside out, when death no longer reigned, when God became present and we touched his hands. On that same day the same sun came up as it had yesterday morning when we lay in the dark shards of our despair. On each day, when the world ended and when it began anew, it was the same sun, the same birds, the same creaking bones and growling stomachs and sour morning breath of the disciples.

What happened on day 732,920 after the resurrection? The same sun came up as it had the morning when the world was turned inside out. It was the same sun, the same birds, the same creaking bones and growling stomachs and sour morning breath of the disciples.

This is monastic life. Life lived on two levels. It is life centered on Christ, centered in the earth shattering news of the resurrection, in the paschal mystery that repeats in our little, insignificant and unnoticed lives. Every day is an extraordinary realization that God is alive and in our midst and dwells with us. And every day is also like the one gone before, stretching into infinity, an endless horizon of ordinariness and monotony.

People ask, “What do you do all day in the monastery?” We live simultaneously at two extremes of the human condition. It is an ordinary life of living with the same people you like or don’t like, day after day, year after year. It is an endless round of chores and work and meetings that repeat until you no longer have the capacity to do chores or work or go to meetings. But is also a life that is a call to stop, listen, be aware. Here, now, today is the day after the resurrection. Death is no more. God is in our midst. Each moment is a moment of eternity, a moment of grace.

Of course it is not just our elders who suffer memory loss. The twin poles of eternity and everyday life do not have equal weight. We are always being dragged down into the inertia of forgetfulness, the fog of grayness and complacency. The same people, same routine, same surroundings grate tenaciously against our soul and blind us to the reality that every day is the day after the resurrection.

But ultimately monastic life is about creating structures that fight against the loss of wonder. Monastic life is designed to make life simple, uncomplicated and focused on God. It is not an easy life. But it is difficult for different reasons than most people would imagine. It isn’t difficult because of celibacy or lack of money or even living with so many other people not of your choosing. Monastic life is hard because it is designed to limit all our excuses for not staying focused on God. We structure our life to eliminate the “if only’s…” If only I didn’t have such a demanding job… If only my family responsibilities weren’t so great…. If only I were younger…. And each of our “if only’s” ends with saying “then I would certainly be a more spiritual person, then I would truly seek God with all my heart.”

No, you wouldn’t. When you come together in a life beyond the normal family responsibilities, without the striving of the competitive job market, a simple life without many possessions, you find new distractions, new ways to become complacent, new ways to focus on imagined difficulties and insults and ways to feel important. It is hard to live a life focused on God. We long for God as for the sun in the midst of night but shield our eyes and look away when confronted with noon-day brightness.

In monastic life we live a paradox. We live the most ordinary, unexceptional life, a life reduced to the basics in order to do the most extraordinary, to live every day like it is the day after the resurrection, the day when the world turned inside out and we finally saw that God was in our midst. But paradoxes are hard to hold. Like two magnets they are twin poles that resist coming together. We resist being able to see with new eyes, we shield our eyes from the light that threatens to blind and transform us, that burns and peels the thick skin that cannot feel the touch of God. We yearn for the easy anesthetic of the ordinary, of our comforting gray lives, our pride and control that keep us from being broken open to experience the power of God.

So people ask, “What do you do all day in the monastery?” I tell them that every day we get up, watch the same sun rise, hear the same birds sing, experience the same creaking bones and growling stomachs and sour morning breath of this motley group of disciples as we did the day before. But every day, even if just for a startling moment we realize: God is alive, in our midst, the world is made new and we along with it.

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