READ: Numbers 6:24-26
“The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:24-26 (Aaron’s Benediction, or Prayer of Blessing)
This Benediction is often prayed at Greyfriars’ Abbey, a monastic standard from ancient times. It was also the closing prayer that my Methodist youth group would share responsively as we held hands around a circle, I first prayed that prayer now 52 years ago. The same prayer, then and now. Back then in the chapel of a Methodist Church by a fifth grade boy and now in the chapel of a Benedictine monastery by a retired old man. Think of the miles between then and now; think of the pilgrimage made with that prayer in mind; think of the changes in my life and my world from then to now; yet think of all the matters that are still much the same.
“The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Striking the number of times in both the Old and New Testaments that it speaks of the “face” of God. On the one hand, the Scriptures declare that no one has seen the face of God, that is except the Son. Yet, on the other hand, we are often called to behold the face of God!
The face of God … what could that possibly mean? Christ has a face, but does the Father or the Spirit?
Faces … You would think “faces” would be less seen in monasteries – you know, with all that bowing and kneeling, those hooded robes and that downcast, reverential posture. But surprisingly … it is to the contrary. The fact that we all tend to dress in much the same clothing – plain denim during our manual labor, plain robes during the “holy” work of prayer and study – accentuates the individual faces. The faces predominate rather than the fashion. And in the context of the quiet, the expressions on the face come to the forefront. The faces of the Brothers comprise the far greater share of our communication with another.
Faces … I have found that the faces of the Brothers become more and more expressive to me as time goes by. The more you know the faces the better able you are to see the thoughts in their eyes. You notice the smile, you notice the tear. The furrow in the brow, the biting at the lip, the distance of the gaze, the tilting of the head, all these expressions and many more become words in a place of filled with the Holy Quiet. At dinner, a simple glance and a tiny gesture communicates the need of this or that. During the chores, a barely noticeable nod or a lifting of an eyebrow communicates the message while respecting the silence. As we sit opposite each other in the choir, the faces become rich with meaning as they come alive in the candlelight. So little need for droning chatter when the soul speaks so meaningfully in the prayerful, thoughtful expression of a prayerful, thoughtful Someone Else.
And when I am away from Greyfriars‘, out here in the crowded, noisy world … I have noticed that I now pay much more attention to the faces of the souls about me. I look across a room and I can see the worried stress in the face of weary man; I look at the woman near the check-out line and I can see the worn-out life of loneliness in her expression. The servers in the restaurant, they share their dreams and their frustrations through the confessions of their eyes. More and more, I can hear the unspoken words of my loved ones. And more and more, I can see what hides behind the words when I look long into the mirror.
Faces … I suppose we all carry an image of Christ in our minds, maybe some of us, even an image of God. What is the expression on God’s face? Does that expression change from moment to moment; from circumstance to circumstance? Does God look like me or does God look like you, maybe neither, maybe both.
I do believe that God’s visage knows both laughter and tears. I believe God smiles; I believe God cries. I do believe that God knows both love and hurt and you can see both in His face. I do believe that God’s “eyes” are both gently compassionate and, at times, frightfully concerned, sometimes with the look of cool, cool water, and sometimes with the look of holy fire. And I do believe … yes, I do believe that somehow, sometimes, God and me do look at each other, face-to-face, soul-to-soul, sharing those thoughts with each other that mere words fail to serve.
So, my Loved Ones, … may … “The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Brother Anthony of the Cross
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