CHRISTIAN, THROUGH AND THROUGH
READ: Deuteronomy 6
“The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. … You should diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which God has commanded you. You shall do what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord, so that it may be well with you and that you may enter and possess the good and promised land…” – Deuteronomy 6:4-6, 17-18
The contemplative way is seeking a vision of our human circumstance from a clearer and purer divine perspective. Contemplative life and contemplative prayer seek to clarify that divine vision of all the dust and distortion of our human selfishness and prejudice, ignorance and arrogance. The contemplative Christian takes seriously the most challenging task of actually fulfilling the prayer of Jesus, ‘”Lord, not my will, but Your will be done,” or as I understand it to mean, “Lord, free me from what I think ought to be done so that I might come to know and then to accomplish what You think is needed to be done.” This prayer by Jesus is not a surrender to fate, but rather a commitment to do what is right and good in the eyes of God. But alas … too quickly, too habitually, too presumptively, too arrogantly, we believe that God surely must believe as I do and/or as I and those surround me do believe.
Most of us know the famous verse in the Book of Deuteronomy, repeated again in the Gospels … “You shall love the Lord your God with ALL your HEART and with ALL your SOUL and with ALL your STRENGTH.” Yet … have most of us actually made such a thorough commitment … and even further … how many of us have actually accomplished such a thorough transformation of our attitudes, agendas, thoughts, feelings, actions, and visions? You see the word ALL is NOT to be understood in terms of grit and determination, but rather the word ALL is better understood in terms of perseverance and thoroughness.
One of the “luxuries” allowed in Greyfriars’ Abbey is the bread and pastries produced in our bakery. Some of the baked goods are sold in town to cover expenses; some are served in the nearby homeless shelter; and some – ’tis the somewhat sinful part of this Abbey venture – are served in our refectory, our dining room.
Here at Greyfriars’ Abbey, we bake cakes for the “birthdays” of the Brothers and Novices, not the date which they first entered this world, but the date they first entered the Abbey. This week I happened to be in the bakery when Brother Stephen’s cake was being baked. I observed our baker open the oven door so as to check on the progress of the cake. The cake had that delicious-looking golden-brown tint that yummy baked goods do have. I thought the cake was surely ready to be drawn from the oven. But then the baker did something I recall my mother doing years ago, before ovens were equipped with clocks and timers, beeps and buzzers. He jerked a single straw from the small, whisk broom he kept on the counter, then taking the straw, he probed into the center of the cake. He then removed the straw to closely inspect it, and then declared, “Not quite yet … a few minutes more.” What had on the surface appeared to be a cake thoroughly baked was instead a cake still in the making, still needing deep within it, in the unseen places, some more time in the oven.
And so it usually is with most Christian disciples… some of us have the surface appearance of being thoroughly devoted, but deep within, we are still needing more time in the oven. You see, it is no easy matter to love the Lord your God with ALL your HEART, with ALL your SOUL, and with ALL your STRENGTH. Oh, we may claim to and most of us wish we did … but such thoroughness of devotion and such clarity of divine understanding … takes time; it takes care; it takes humility; it takes seasoning; it takes practice; it takes changing; it takes a willingness to be transformed and it takes the courage to try, over and over again, learning from our trying.
The contemplative approach to Christian discipleship is so well stated in Saint Benedict’s definition of a monastic community … he called the monastic community, “a school of Holy Love, where divine charity is learned to be lived in human ways.”
Brother Anthony of the Cross