PURIFYING THE WATERS
READ: James 3:9-13
James the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem Church writes to his Christian brothers and sisters …”We use our words to bless the Lord and Father, but we also use our words to curse people who are made in God’s image, thus we have the blessing and the curse coming out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, this must surely be wrong. Does any well provide a flow of fresh water and a flow of salt water at the same time? No. Can a fig tree yield olives, a grape vine yield figs? No, no more than can sea water yield fresh water. Anyone who is wise or who possesses mature understanding among you should then give evidence of an inner goodness by doing good deeds done in the gentleness of wisdom.” – James 3:9-13
In the center of the Cloister of Greyfriars’ Abbey, a fountain flows and has flowed from before the memory of anyone now here. The ongoing sound of its trickling waters graces the Holy Quiet that is reverentially and obediently kept in this inner courtyard. The water in that fountain is clear and cool. Though we tend not drink from the fountain nowadays for you see the many sparrows in the neighborhood like to come and splash about in the waters of the fountain. So for the Brothers and guests, the fountain is more about watching the sparrows than about quenching our thirst. I have come to look forward to sparrow watching time – it is somehow something very good for the souls of old monks.
To say the least, I was surprised when one day a young man in a blue denim uniform with a name badge clipped to his pocket visited the Cloister. He was carrying with him a scientific-looking, black leather kit containing test tubes and bottles. He then proceeded to test samples of the water. He would add drops of this chemical and that chemical which then led him to write notes in his quite official-looking, black notebook. As he walked past in his departure – I suppose I had an inquisitive look about me – for he whispered to me, “Your water is still pure as ever, but you might want to check the interior pipes. I detected the slightest hint of iron this time.” I nodded and thought it best that I escort him to the Abbot’s office.
After I returned to the Cloister to resume my reading, I thought …“I suppose a monastery ought to be known for having clean, clear, pure water.”
I recently read about a young man who used words that we now hold as racially insensitive, if not even degrading. This outburst of racist words was apparently quite out-of-character for him, so claimed his friends. The young man apologized and, by grace, I thought he was sincerely sorry for his outburst, possibly even ashamed that words such as those came from his lips. Now – to be candid – I do not personally know the young man, but Benedictine Christians are called to be generous in our mercy and to be filled to overflowing with hope for better ways and days ahead. But this young man – like this old man who now writes these words – ought to be asking, “From where did those words flow? In my flash of anger, from what deep place within me did I draw those hateful words?”
An aspect of contemplative spirituality is the practice of ongoing spiritual self-examination. You might say that this practice is the testing as to the purity of the waters within our souls. As Christians, most of us must confess that we are not yet perfectly pure within. Deep within the well of our human experience still linger traces of old resentments, old fears, old prejudices, unresolved issues, unchanged habits. But still, for the contemplative Christian, when from our mouths do flow bitter words, hurtful words, even caustic and poisonous words … we are called upon to trace those words back to their origins that must be somewhere within the well of our souls. From where did those words arise? And it is the same with our actions that may or may not accompany those words. And once we find the source of the pollution, we must then ask for some purifying of those tainted waters accomplished by our authentic repentance and by the miracle of God’s cleansing grace.
My Loved Ones, in these later steps in my faith’s journey … I am learning to test more often and with greater sensitivity and care … the words and the actions that do flow from the still somewhat corroded depths of my inner self. I only pray that my waters are, at least, somewhat purer than they were before.
Brother Anthony of the Cross
— For the latest installment of the ongoing story, The Mystic Realms of Shadow Fox, just click … https://greyfriarsabbey.wordpress.com/the-mystic-reams-of-shadow-fox/ … The installments are separated by ********* with the latest being at the end (obviously).