THE WILLOWS AND TINTERN ABBEY
READ: Mark 12:28-34
“And the Biblical scholar said to Jesus, ‘Well spoken, Rabbi. What you have said is true, that God is One and there is no other. To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice brought to the Temple.’ seeing how wisely this man had spoken, Jesus then said, ‘My friend, you are not far from the kingdom of God.’“ – Mark 12:32-34a
Today I strolled to the far reaches of the Abbey farm, to sit beneath the willows that reside near the creek that branches from the river. There I sat and read in the dappled light that danced through the willow leaves, leaves moved ever so slightly by a kindly breeze passing through. In that quiet place, made somehow even more quiet by the trickling of the nearby waters and that whispering that willow trees make, I read my Scriptures for this day, among them, Jesus’ conversation with a learned seeker of the Truth, one of the few who seemed sincere in their questioning of Jesus. When I came to the words …”My friend, you are not far from the kingdom of God,” I thought of the visitor who stopped me at the place where my path drew me close to the country road that passes by the Abbey. He beckoned me over to ask me for directions. The man rolled down his window and asked of me, “How far is it to the Abbey?” I gestured along with the words, “Not far, sir. About a mile and a half, just round the next curve in the road. The entrance is on the left.” With a thank you, he drove on. But as he drove off I thought, “In truth, when he had asked his question, he had already found the Abbey grounds, the very land on which I stood, just off the road. He was far closer to the Abbey then he realized.”
Is this not true in life of the Kingdom … so many are so close … yet they sense that they are still far away, so they remain on the road, that skirts by, forever searching.
Each afternoon, I take a few minutes to read some Shakespeare and to read a few pages of poetry. Beneath these willow trees today, among the poems I read was William Wordsworth’s famous work … Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey. Some say that Wordsworth drawing a parallel yet also making a contrast between the living inspiration of Nature and the ruins of the old Cistercian Abbey. I suppose Wordsworth was declaring that nature was a higher source of inspiration than were the ruins of the ancient abbey. For myself, I have experienced a divine inspiration offered through both, God speaking through the experience of God’s natural creation and through the history of God’s Christian community. Among those beautifully crafted lines of poetry, Wordsworth writes …“… And I felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy, Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime; Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns …”
I sense that Christ would say to Wordsworth, “Oh, my friend, you are not far from the kingdom of God.” But just … how far?
As I sit here within these willow trees that reside on the edge of the Abbey farm, I am a good two miles from the chapel and the meeting house. Yet, I sense that I am still within the Cloister of the Abbey. Yet, is the spirit of the Abbey more there than it is here? Is the spirit of the Lord more there than it is here? And if I traveled beyond these fences and journeyed down that country road to the town beyond … would not the spirit of the Abbey and the spirit of the Lord be present within me, within my memories, within the living out of my calling?
All this musing I share probably to have you consider this one thought … how conscious are we of being in the midst of the kingdom of God? How vivid is the Presence of the Lord in this very time and place? Or do we imagine it to be a few more miles down the road, maybe just beyond the next curve. Or do we imagine that we are somehow in the vicinity of God’s realm, but somehow we are still not quite there, still asking for directions, still looking for an elusive entrance by which we might enter in?
Here, beside these waters, within the shade of these willows, midst the sounds of blackbirds and squirrels and, in the far distance, the faint tolling of the chapel bell, I still am conscious of being in the Presence of the Lord. Sometimes, the air itself seems to sparkle with the Presence, and I breathe it in. Sometimes, the Presence is soft and mellow, like a comforter on a cold night, and I must snuggle into it. And this presence of the Presence should not surprise me … for wherever I might be … the Presence of the Lord is already there to be found … if I but open the eyes of my soul and the windows of my life.
My Loved Ones, you are not far from the kingdom of God … in fact, you are probably already there … if you only took the time to become aware of it.
Brother Anthony of the Cross