25, 26, 27, 28. Loving Your Neighbour

I need to take a break from the story of the monk for a moment.

The streets are flooded. We can’t park in front of our house, and we’ve got a 4 vehicle house. That’s a rant for another day. My fiancé parks down the street. I drive by his car, park on a side street. From the time it took me to drive past his car to walk past it, someone has taken a large piece of cardboard and written in juvenile letters, “Fuck You”. I take a picture of it, one of the house in front of where he parked for reference, pulled the sign off his windshield, and threw it on the ground.

As he’s filing a police report, I look out my front window and can see that the sign has been picked up and put back on the car. I leave for work, take another picture of the sign, take it off again, and throw it on the ground. This time, I wait in my car to see if they’re dumb enough to come back and let me record them do it again.

I go to work.

Driving home, I park on the same side street, but this time I walk down the alley to get home because I don’t want to walk past the house. The parking space that my fiancé had occupied is empty.

I don’t know what motivated this. Likely it was an angry person wanting to park in front of their house. I get it. People park in front of my house all the time, and it frustrates me, and I park somewhere else. It’s a street. There’s no reservation.

So why am I triggered suddenly, recalling the voices of kids in elementary school telling me I should’ve been a girl, I wasn’t a boy; remembering being taunted by kids younger than I was, “fag”. I was held down in high school, and my head sat on. A hallway full of people did nothing. Said nothing. Looked the other way. Swimming at a pool on vacation, an elderly couple snickered and whispered about me. The truck load of young men, throwing balloons filled with urine at me when I walked home from work, only to collapse in the shower in tears. Being told that queerness was weakness, an excuse that got in the way of profit and being productive, and actually…*actually*…believing in ultra-conservative ideology because my co-workers encouraged it, believed it.

How many years was I not authentic because I was afraid of the harm that would come to me?

Now, I’m afraid to live on my street. I’m afraid to walk past the house of someone who may or may not have put a cardboard sign on my fiancé’s very queer car–like the most out, rainbow covered car.

I look down the street at the one house that proudly displays a PPC sign in the window, and wonder how many others on our street are quietly in agreement.

I know I should have faith, I know that I should trust God. I know that my vocation challenges me not to be overcome.

I’m afraid to live in Regina, because there are more and more people who see my existence as the reasons their lives are shit.

I’m afraid of how dangerous right wing cowards are, what can be done in the dark to property, to pets, to family.

And I’m tired.

25, 26, 27, 28. Loving Your Neighbour

24. The Blood.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Hebrews 9:11-15

He climbed out of bed, stumbled to his table, sat. He drank water, felt the coolness rushing into his empty stomach. The bread will be hard as a rock, he thought. He debated with himself if he should even eat, or take the opportunity to fast. No, he decided. He’d been three days already without food. He would eat.

He drew some of the figs and olives from the pantry, then went to the place where the bread was to be found. He reached in, pulled out one of the hard round loaves, broke it. Inside, the bread was soft; the crust crisp, but not stone hard.

How could this be? The bread had been like stones the night before.

He paused, gave thanks, ate the bread. He drank the water.

Then he made his way to the cave where Mass was said to pray, to give thanks for the small miracle.

24. The Blood.

21, 22, 23. The Dust on His Feet.

Gone was the day of St. Benedict. Gone was the day that the monk who brought bread came by, gone was the nights of cold air, the scorching days. He had been asleep for three days, waking up on the floor and finding dried blood on the side of his head where he’d hit it against the bed. He got up, head feeling sore, and stumbled towards the door. There was his bread, dried hard in three days of desert sun. He brought it in, satisfied that with his water he could reclaim some of it.

It would have to do.

He tried to recall what had happened before he’d fallen down.

He drank water, poured some on the dry bread, scooped out and ate. He went to the cupboard, pulled out dates and preserved olives and ate. He drank again, deeply.

Had no one checked on him?

Had no one stopped to see that he was alright?

It wasn’t the custom. Even if a monk had knocked upon his door, had he not greeted him, his fellow monk would’ve considered him deep in prayer, and left.

His strength started to come back. He saw the dust on his feet, recalling that he’d walked back from the cave where Mass was said; he’d walked into his hermitage, lit a candle to give him some light, turned, and seen a face.

A face? Had he seen a face? No, it couldn’t have been. It must have been his imagination, or a dream after he’d fallen down. Faces don’t appear in walls.

He laid down on his bed. He knew in a day or so, the Abbot would be there to see him as he did all the hermits. He would discuss it then. In the mean time, there was prayer. He looked down, saw that his rosary had been in his hand, the cross clenched so hard it had left an imprint in the palm. He reached over, grabbed the bible, opened it and read:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

He felt comforted in reading the scripture. He picked up his rosary, began to pray. Today he would pray, tonight he would hold vigil. Tomorrow was Passion Sunday, and he would need to be at the cave where Mass was said.

As he moved the beads in his fingers, he felt stronger again.

21, 22, 23. The Dust on His Feet.

20. Encounter

The monk was out walking. The only time he left his enclosure was to visit the cave that Mass was said in.

It was his turn today to say Mass.

The cave was quiet, dark. He lit a small oil lamp. Walking further into the cave, he found the vestments on a small wooden table. He put them on. He set the altar to say Mass, lit the candles, set the oil lamp on the side table, and quietly began.

As he prayed, he thought about his time on retreat, what he’d encountered, the amount of time he’d slept, rested, and was in prayer.

He thought about his family, his friends outside of the monastery. He thought about life in his home town, the farm where he grew up, the smell of the barn in the morning.

He didn’t notice those who’d joined him in the beginning. He had been so focused on preparing the sacrifice, preparing himself, that he’d not noticed until he’d turned to face them, hear the responses.

Adjutorium nostrom in nomini Domini…..

He began his confiteor. He recalled that which he was grateful for, then thought of his faults, all those things which had kept him bound from his love of God, of Christ. He beat his chest, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa. Through my most grievous fault.

Slowly, as he read from the missal, recalled what he knew from memory, the world outside the cave began to fade; he began to fade. Until he was face to face with the bread, his body lowered, his mouth close to the host. He whispered:

Hoc est enim corpus meum.

He bowed, raised the host over his head, lowered it back to the altar, bowed again.

He felt his cheeks damp with tears.

He grasped the chalice, said the words of consecration, bowed, raised the chalice, lowered it back to the stone altar, and bowed again.

Quietly, he ate and drank. Quietly, he gave communion to those in his community.

There was silence in the cave before he read the communion prayer. A deep, warm silence filled with memories of laughing infants, dew on blades of grass, the smell of lilac flowers, the radiant reds and blues that hit the floor of the church in the monastery, the smell of the incense, the bells.

They all left, silently, the monk last of all, after he had prepared the sanctuary for the next day’s Mass, the next monk in line who’s turn it was to read.

As he walked back to his hermitage on the side of the mountain, he could hear voices in the desert, voices of his brother monks, singing through the moonlight.

20. Encounter

19. Follow Me

The monk picked up the Gospel of John and read:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

19. Follow Me

18. A Vision

As the monk was pouring water to wash before his morning prayers, he fell to the ground.

His eyes saw before him the world but not the world that was his hermitage, but the world of a city, streets. He was following a group that were laughing and in good cheer; the streets were dusty, the languages the voices spoken were different. The group went into a house. Stairs lead up to a roof-top space covered with a large piece of fabric to shade the area from sun. A woman was lying on the ground, seemingly ill. A man in the group walked to the woman, touched her hand. She immediately rose from the ground, embraced the man, welcomed the men, and bid them go upstairs. The monk with these strange eyes watched as the woman prepared bread from flour and water, olives and dates, and boiled water to make hot sweet tea.

The monk climbed the stairs with the group who clearly were friends; they followed one and gathered themselves on the carpets around him, reclining. The woman and two other girls brought up a tray of hot flat breads, bowls of olives and dates, and a tall metal pot with tea. She placed the food in the centre of the group, left. One of the men in the group poured out tea.

The monk with these new eyes found himself beside the man who had touched the sick woman downstairs. He leaned into the man, who embraced him, kissed his forehead, and bid him welcome.

At that moment, the monk’s eyes darted open. Finding himself on the floor of his hermitage, he picked himself up, brushed the dust from his robes, sat a moment on the bed, then returned to his basin to wash before prayers.

18. A Vision

17. Peace

The monk spend the next days in peace. A quiet had come over the hermitage, the desert and the valley around him. He attended Mass in the cave where Mass was read, he said Mass. He prostrated himself in the mornings and said his Office. He sang hymns to the sky, to the sparrows that would visit his hermitage.

In quiet, he would say the prayer of St. Francis, still his mind, envision the feast at the wedding of Cana. He would see before him the empty water vessels in a dry room. A clamor of servants rushing in, desperately trying to understand where all the wine had gone. He saw himself as an old woman, sitting quietly in a corner, observing and unobserved. The Blessed Mother, entering into the space, asking what the commotion was about. Quietly, sadly, yet smiling, leaving the room. A conversation in hushed tones outside the room, then the Blessed Mother returning with her Son, saying “Whatever he tells you to do, do.”

The monk observing in his mind the Lord gently, quietly, telling the servants to fill the vessels. The old woman, observing, unobserved. The Lord, walking quietly past each vessel, touching the water with the tip of His finger, then quietly walking out of the room. The servants, frustrated and confused, going to the jars, smelling first, then seeing wine, tasting the wine. Hurrying to fill containers, sending them out to the feast. The old woman, walking to the door and looking into the feast, revelers not realizing what had transpired.

The monk, then allowing the scene to fade, unobserved like his place as an old woman unobserved, then observed and loved by God. The monk, feeling his soul filled with the love of God, the love of Christ, praying without words.

A sparrow lands at the door, chirps, pecks at the sand outside. The monk stirs, and is once again in his cell. Yet somehow in some little way transformed, as if touched by the tip of a finger.

17. Peace

16. Another Knock at the Door

Again, a knock came at the door of the monk’s hermitage. Instead of temptation, it was something different.

Outside the door was the image of a person in a dark cloak, neither male nor female, but in some ways resembling the monk. This was doubt.

The monk in fear did not open the door. He looked through it, saw the figure, then returned to his bed, putting his face in his hands.

Not again, he thought to himself.

The cloaked figure whispered at the monk; suddenly his mind was filled with images of failure, judgement. His ears were filled with the voices of judgement.

They told him of his secret temptations that no one, not even the abbot, knew. They told him of his ultimate failing in his isolation–that at some point soon, he would crack, that he would wander down the mountain, take off his habit, return to the world he’d left to seek out God.

They reminded him of the pain he suffered rising early to pray, to walk to the cave where Mass was said. They reminded him of the pain in eating stale bread, stale water.

They reminded him of his pain. His suffering.

Rather than voices within, ideas from his own consciousness, they were like winds that blew against his skin that profoundly moved his mind in quiet, secret ways to think. They were a voice in his ear that was like a thought in his own mind, and yet nothing like a thought in his mind.

The monk wept.

He fell on his knees, looked up and saw the crucifix on the table before him. He rebuked the voices. He rebuked the failure, the judgement, he rebuked the accusing finger pointing at his deepest secrets, knowing the God loved him regardless.

And in that strength, he shouted out into the darkness of his cell:

I rebuke you, Satan. I rebuke your attempt to hold me, to twist me.

He focused again on the crucifix. Calm began to enter into his spirit, his cell. The figure outside drifted like smoke down the valley.

The monk fell asleep praying the rosary, feeling once again settled in his faith.

16. Another Knock at the Door

15. Whomever dwells in shelter of the Most High

 will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
 my God, in whom I trust.”

 Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
 You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,

 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
 A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
 You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
 For he will command his angels concerning you
  to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

15. Whomever dwells in shelter of the Most High

13. & 14. Waking Again: The First Temptation

The monk woke again from a deep, deep sleep. He admonished himself for having dozed so long once again. The heat of the desert, the quiet of the room, the drowsiness of the day impacted his ability to stay awake.

The monk, however, was aware that he did not dream.

He set about to get food and drink; the bread in his cupboard had gone stale, but it was good enough. The water in his pitcher, also stale, but somehow that didn’t matter. There was nourishment in it, the taste of the bread improved as he chewed.

He looked out at the dark sky of the desert. One who looked like a fellow monk stood before him, holding a loaf of fresh bread.

“Did you rest well,” asked the temptor.

“I rested too much,” said the monk.

“You are eating.”

“Yes, I am eating now.”

“Your bread is too hard. Your water is stale. Here, I bring you fresh bread and wine. Come out of your hermitage, eat with me.”

The monk considered. It had been a long time since he had drank wine. Fresh bread was softer in the mouth.

“Yes, my bread is softer than yours. And wine tastes sweet to the mouth that is dry, and thirsts.”

The monk, realizing the temptation before him had perceived his thoughts without the monk revealing them to him, said:

“Begone, temptation. If I call on the Blessed Mother and the Archangel Michael, they will defend me.”

“I am not afraid of them,” said the temptation.

The monk stopped, stunned at this. Was this a deception? He looked into his heart.

Suddenly, he remembered the old abbot, the day of the embrace, his kind guiding words, his admonitions.

The monk stood, came to the door, and prayed for the intercession of the Blessed Mother and Saint Michael.

The temptation cowered. His bread turned to a skull; the wineskin that hung behind him shifted on his shoulder, moved forward to reveal a rotting animal, a snake intertwined around it. The temptation cowered, walked down the mountain.

The monk returned to his cell, knelt in prayer, resolving to remain awake.

13. & 14. Waking Again: The First Temptation