Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Feast of James Otis Sargent Huntington - 25 Nov 2009

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. James Randall Greve, OHC
Feast of James Otis Sargent Huntington
Wednesday 25 November 2009

Galatians 6:14-18
John 6:34-38

From the Galatians reading - For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! . The Message Bible puts it this way: “Can't you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do – submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!

Is God in fact creating something totally new? In us? Here, now? On this day when we commemorate our Founder we engage in the important work of looking back - to what is past, what is old - in hopes of becoming prepared for and open to what is new. Fr. Huntington went where there was no path and left a trail and so we pause to remember what a bold risk, what a culturally and ecclesiastically subversive thing he was doing and we pray for a bit of his spirit to fall on us and cover us. Today is not just about the past but is also a moment to look in the mirror, and then look forward to the possibilities of the future.

Not plans for this or that building but to the question of what kind of men are we called to become? What new creation is yet to be sprouted up in us? This day is an opportunity to remember that the call and vision that began 125 years ago today is an event that lives in us and with us. Each of us in the Order of the Holy Cross chooses to found the Order every day by our living out the Gospel through our Rules, our love for God and our neighbor, and our willingness to continue to be grounded in good soil for growth for ourselves and the Order. With the words from the service of Life Profession still fresh in my mind and heart, I am impressed with the emphasis on decision and will within that and other rites of passage within our life. “What do you seek?” (Are you sure? Do you really?) The call is something that happens to us – that is God's free gift to us, the decision is what we do with the call, how we respond to God's gift, every single day.

St. Paul's message to the bickering church in Galatia, harassed by the Judaizers who were putting conditions on salvation, is as relevant to us as today as in the first century: The apostle is saying: “You must keep choosing freedom, deciding for the truth, defending the Gospel against those who would attach an asterisk and small print “some restrictions may apply”. They knew the Gospel at one time but they were bewitched, lulled, seduced away from Jesus to “Jesus and”, the root of every heresy.

A new creation, not a new version of the old creation, is everything. Living the new creation means being vigilant, purifying our hearts, not sliding into the old life of the past. The truth doesn't just happen, the founding of the Order didn't just happen, the ongoing life of prayer and service doesn't just happen – faithful monks from the founder to today have day by day stood up and let their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no”, took stands, made sacrifices so that we could pursue new life within the call of the monastic life.

I was reminded of the importance of decision through a recent encounter. The conversation didn't follow the script. I was in the bookstore a few weeks ago on a particularly quiet weekday when a couple who had driven down to explore the monastery came into the store. Now some visitors will quietly browse and others will be full of questions, most of which I've been asked a hundred times before but am glad to answer as they are an important part of the ritual of hospitality. But this was different.

After chatting a bit about the monastery, the man asked me “When did you decide to become a Christian?”- not an Episcopalian, or a monk – two of my more well-rehearsed little stories, but a Christian. I remember thinking in a flash “I'm a monk, I'm supposed to know this!” Without missing very much of a beat I heard myself say “This morning when I woke up.” The reaction was a quizzical but thoughtful expression and the encounter was practically over – nothing much more was said. Just as I didn't expect that question, he didn't expect that answer and it seemed to have left him without want or need of reply.

“When did you decide to become a Christian?” Something about his use of the word decide hung in the air and has stuck with me. It's just not something I believe I've ever been asked before but the question and the answer exchanged that day are important. Decide is an active, intentional word. I've mostly thought of my Christian commitment as something I've been compelled to be and do, caught or swept up into rather than a decision as such – total reliance on grace - more Augustine, less Pelagius. I thought later about my answer and the other possible and equally valid answers I could have given.

Did my conversion happen when I was baptized as an infant at St. Jerome Catholic Church? When I went with my friends to Clay Road Baptist Church and asked Jesus into my heart when I was eight? Was it through the community at West Oaks Baptist Church in the early 80s or standing at my father's hospital bedside as he recovered from two gunshot wounds that almost killed him? Was it the decision to attend Houston Baptist University or Southern Baptist Theological Seminary? Was it when I decided somewhat on a whim after having left seminary to slip into St. James Episcopal Church on a Wednesday night in Lent in 1992?

I could make the case that decision was going on when I was received into the Episcopal Church, when I responded to calls to ministry at different parishes, when I began to explore monastic life, my entry into this community, my clothing, my profession. What about the thousands of days between those moments, in the day to day grind of just doing life?Could I have decided this morning in the quiet moments before sunrise? Could my original answer have in fact been true? What if every day is when I decide to become a Christian? What if deciding to be a Christian today allows me to decide that more fully and deeply tomorrow?

New creation sounds great and if I asked you “Do you want to be made into a new creation in Christ?” most of us would say “Let's do it!” But the nitty gritty of change, the day to day-ness of working out our salvation, is hard, tough stuff as we all know. In fits of honesty we realize we don't always want what we say we want – the illusory short cuts, the quick fixes are at times too tempting when faced with the long, hard slog of transformation. Being stretched, taking risk, giving up the safety and security of what I know for another land is not easy, but it is worth it.

It is worth it because a new creation is everything and because the alternative is far, far harder and more dangerous – a smug, isolated, comfortable deadness – dead seeds on dead soil. There is no third option – it's either stewing in the juices of our own selfishness or pressing on every day for new life. So we are on the hook, trapped in a land without a no man's land, wonderfully tricked by God into waking up and making a decision. A monk is a sign of paradox – the paradox of the blessedness of sacrifice and the abundance of self-denial.

A monk dares to say “no” to everything dead, everything illusory, everything transitory, everything that obscures our new life. A monk stands up and points to the lies and says “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything”, counts it as nothing and casts it all aside in order to experience the freedom of the free gift of God's grace – a new creation is everything. The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in The Cost of Discipleship that the one central and unavoidable question of Christianity is not “Are you willing to die?” but “Which kind of death are you going to die?” Or, as Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, says in the famous song, “You gotta serve somebody”.

What followed from this day in 1884 for James Otis Sargent Huntington? 18,462 days of getting out of bed and deciding to become a Christian, saying “yes” to conversion, new life, new creation. Over fifty years of praying, leading, preaching, raising money, moving, then moving again until his last words were “I will always intercede!” and then he died on June 29, 1935.

A new creation is everything. Fr. Huntington believed that, staked his life on it. He proved it to be true and proved God faithful. Let us become men of new creation - open, expectant, hopeful, real – now, today, tomorrow, the next day, the day after that, the day after that. May the thousands of days that are past grant us their gift of wisdom and love. May the days that lie ahead grant us their gift of deepening love and hope. May we have the grace and will to follow the path shown us and cleared for us by St. Benedict, Fr. Huntington, and the whole company of heaven joined in the praise of Christ. Amen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christ the King - 22 Nov 2009

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Christ the King – Sunday 22 November 2009
ONE Sunday

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

As today’s collect suggests, nations long to be freed from sin and united in peace and truth. We yearn to move into the accomplishment of God’s desire for humanity. We hope that we all may be One with the God who is, who was, and who is to come.

In our season of Pentecost, which comes to a close, our longing for unity with God began to be fulfilled by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.

In the beckoning season of Advent, our yearning for oneness with God is in the memory of Jesus’ incarnation and in the hope of God’s renewed, unmediated presence to all of us.


We cannot speak of God but in human words and metaphors. And God surpasses any and all of these metaphors. “Kingdom” is a metaphor that Jesus himself seems willing to play with but not without giving us a workout about what He might have in mind when using that metaphor.


Our first reading of today comes from the second of the two Books of Samuel. These books evoke the transition of Israel, as the chosen people, from being ruled by Judges to being ruled by Kings. And this transition does not seem to be God’s first choice for Israel.

A ruler provides guidance. The rules are there to direct and keep people in the right path. Under the Judges, Israel is ruled by the covenant with God. In a way, God is their king.

The judges, who then rule Israel, are scattered amongst its many tribes. The judges have the subsidiary responsibility to arbitrate conflicts in the interpretation of God’s covenant with Israel. Under the judges, there is no centralized power but God.

But Israel fashions itself as a modern nation -- like its neighbors, really -- and these neighbors all have kings. In addition, to ruling, kings are expected to protect their people from harm. Israel thinks it will be safer with a human king. The prophet Samuel warns Israel in vain about kings and their abuses of power. But God eventually agrees to have a king anointed.

Clearly, a kingdom is not God’s first idea of covenanted relationship.


Our reading from Second Samuel offers the meditations of an aging King David (the second king of Israel) on the essence of his own reign. The essence of David’s reign -- David comes to recognize -- has been God.

Whenever David was at his best, he reigned in awe of God, in obedience to God, and as an instrument of God’s justice.

David sings: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the dew on the grassy land.”

More often than not, David also failed to rule that way. But always he repented and turned to God again, as the foundation of his kingship. And it is this faithful repentance that makes David one to look up to in the biblical narrative.


Our second reading comes from the Book of Revelation.

It is too often overlooked that this book is actually a letter to 7 churches of Asia Minor who are buckling under the domination of Empire (in this case the Roman Empire).

Each of these 7 churches are made to notice the difficulties of each of their sisters. And they are made to feel one. They are made to feel one in their belonging to a reality, in space and time, that goes well beyond the Roman Empire.

And in order to make that clear to them, the seer of Patmos Island subverts the language of the hegemonic power of the time and refers to the symbols from these churches’ jewish heritage.

The seven churches are encouraged to focus on a heavenly Jerusalem that transcends the mightily earthly Rome and brushes away the ruins of the earthly Jerusalem. This is where the seven churches are reminded that they belong to a kingdom where they all are priests of God the Father rather than servants of Caesar Imperator or clients to a temple elite.


In the words of one of my favorite compline hymn, they are reminded that “empires pass away but God’s kingdom stands and grows for ever till all thy creatures own thy sway.”

If you look up this last noun “sway” you will see it means power, dominion, but also “the ability to exercise influence or authority.”

God is inviting us to become co-leaders of God’s plan for humanity until we all exercise that stewardship together as One, with God.


And this brings us to the clash of Pilate and Jesus’ respective understandings of truth. Pilate as a good Roman praetor attempts to judge Jesus according to the political and cultural facts of the situation.

But Jesus also seems interested in whether Pilate is seeking truth on his own behalf or is just the instrument of circumstances; “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

In this passage, I hear again Jesus-the-teacher asking “What is it you want me to do for you?” as he asked Bartimaeus and the sons of Zebedee, James and John.

What is it that you are asking for, Pilate? Do you want to know truth? Or do you seek the convenience of arguments that fit the moment’s purpose?


And the argument that Jesus is the King of the Jews fits the moment’s purpose for Pilate. If Jesus does not renege on this claim, made for him by third parties, Pilate can have him executed as requested by the local religious authorities. Pilate wants to assuage these authorities on the eve of this major religious holiday of Passover.


So Jesus plays along with the Kingdom metaphor for a while; but only as a negative used to project the positive image of what Jesus is about. “My kingdom is not of this world… My kingdom is not from here.”


Jesus concludes this conversation with Pilate saying: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Is testimony the major attribute of a king? Jesus always points to a kingdom of another nature and of which is a witness.

And what are we called to in the presence of this divine witness? We are called to listen. We are called to exercise discerning obedience. Chewing and masticating and ruminating God’s will until the way forward for our life becomes known to us.

Where have I heard this recently? Oh yes, the Rule of St Benedict which I recently professed to use for the rest of my life as a guide to turn again and again to God.

Here are the first two sentences of that rule:

“Listen, child of God, to the guidance of your teacher. Attend to the message you hear and make sure it pierces to your heart, so that you may accept with willing freedom, and fulfill by the way you live, the directions that come from your loving Father.”


So on this feast of Christ the King, Reign of Christ, I invite you to listen to, pull apart and re-construct, the many metaphors Jesus allows us to play with in order to open our hearts wider to God.

God desires us to be ONE; not to remain alienated and rebellious subjects; but to exercise whatever influence and authority we have to turn to Him, to turn into Him. As this conversion happens, with our participation and His grace, we will not be able to help but be instruments of God’s Love.


Let us pray.

Beloved, You are the Alpha and the Omega. Let us not loose our alphabet of love, in-between the book-ends of history. Be our ruler, give us direction, keep us on the right path. And whenever we get lost, shed light over our steps; let us hear your voice again; that in the end, we all may see the light of your countenance as One.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

RCL - Proper 28 B - 15 Nov 2009

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Andrew Colquhoun, OHC
RCL - Proper 28 B - Sunday 15 November 2009

Daniel 12:1-3
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Wheatfield - A Confrontation, Battery Park landfill
(c) 1982 Agnes Denes ---

In September 2001, our monastery in Grahamstown was having some retreat days. My office was in a little hut next to the Prior’s little hut. Usually, we were very careful about the silence so I was a bit taken aback when I heard Timothy exclaim, “Oh, dear God.” I ran next door and he pointed to an email from our Brother Carl Sword who lives at 33rd and 3rd Avenue in the City. Carl had written something like, “We’re under attack - planes are flying into the Towers.

Forgetting the retreat we ran up the hill to where we hide the TV and turned it on and we saw what was happening. For ages we sat stunned and unbelieving. People telephoned; emails came flooding in; the word got to us that no one we knew had been killed. People spoke to us with love and sorrow but the message was almost always – you can’t really be surprised, can you?

The world gathered around the United States in those days waiting to see how this nation would react… with courage? Yes; with compassion? – for our own, yes; with determination to go ahead? – Yes. But we have, in my opinion at least, let the damage go to the heart of the nation. Fear rules us, mistrust directs us and we look for the enemy under every bed.

We’re not alone – the whole world seems to be nuts. Airport security seems disproportionate – no terrorist worth his salt would fly economy – and yet first class passengers walk on the plane unscathed. Have a dark skin and call yourself Jamal and see how easy it is to move around. Or be a woman in a veil and try to ignore the suspicious stares.

The thing is that this is nothing new. It was new for us – but nations and people since recorded history have faced destruction and sorrow and have had to live through it as they were able. Some well, some not so well.

Empires come and go. Economies thrive and collapse. Fortunes are won and lost - it’s the nature of things. History shows that power – that kind of power - never lasts. But somehow we are always taken by surprise.

The Church is no different. Nothing new is going on. We still have people lined up with daggers drawn over who can be in and who has to be out; who can be ordained and who not – and for what reason. My tradition can beat up your tradition; my communion is closer to purity than yours. Our bread is more really Christ than yours.

What a sad state of affairs. It’s enough to make you give up hope.
And that’s a lead line if I ever heard one!

Because that’s exactly what this passage – the little apocalypse – is about. Temples collapsing; traditions coming a cropper; wars, treachery; destruction; things falling down and, as usual, on the heads of the poor.
While the rest of us switch to First Class and walk on unscathed.

The disciples were worried – they had taken refuge in what they saw. Things were beginning to look pretty shaky. “Look at the size of these stones”, they say – “our buildings are bigger than theirs”. And Jesus says to them – don’t count on these things. They aren’t what will keep us in life.

And then he instructs – and we never seem to listen, do we? He tells them that terrible things always lie ahead but they are not to follow the path that frightened, arrogant, murderous people would lead them down.

Jesus points them to a way that doesn’t cave in and says to them, “Follow me!” He leads them into a darkness that can never win. He leads them – and us if we will go – through the darkness of the cross to light. He leads us past armies and nations and doomsayers and privilege to where hope lies. And then he stays with us. And that’s where our hope lies. For hope is relying on the end that will surely come and that has already started. Hope is what marks us as Christ’s. Hope is staring at destruction and knowing that resurrection is constant; and that the future is rooted in that resurrection.

If we are faithful to Jesus, we will see destruction; we will suffer; we will grieve the misery of God’s people. But if we follow Jesus we will do more. We will look on all that misery and defy it; we will move into life and hope and compassion. We will see not the armies of destruction but the face of Christ. If we look beyond our safety we will know Christ in the faces of Afghanistan, of the Holy Innocents of the squatter camps of South Africa; the faces of the crack houses just down the road. We will smell the fragrance of God’s love in the unwashed women of the streets or the children who sweat with the fear of the night to come. We will walk into the dark and we will shine.

We’re going to hear more doom and gloom in the next six weeks... Advent’s coming. We can hear only that or we can down the distance we can hear a song – a song that swells in the darkness:

Glory to poor farmers,
Glory to the people huddled in stables;
Glory to downtrodden people in occupied territories;
Glory to families fleeing the Herod of their days;
Glory to teenaged soldiers mutilated by war.
Glory to young single mothers.
Glory to men unmanned by life.
Glory to widows and orphans.
Glory to God!


Monday, November 9, 2009

OHC 125th Anniversary Celebration

An address to the members of the Order of the Holy Cross on their 125th celebration
Dr. Esther de Waal, Companion OHC
St Luke in the fields, New York, NY
Sunday 08 November 2009
James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC
Founder of the Order of the Holy Cross

Today, on a day of exquisite autumnal beauty, we have a gathering of friends, who have come together to celebrate the story of the Order of the Holy Cross and its origins with Fr Huntington, and to pray for its future at this pivotal moment, 125 years since its foundation, and to commit ourselves in ways appropriate to each one of us to follow and to strengthen all the Order stands for in the life of the church, in this country, in the world - and not least to each one of us in our own vocation and calling.

‘Our Fathers and Friends’ - that small phrase of Thomas Merton catches something of the gratitude for those who have gone before us in the monastic tradition, and the ease of the relationship with which we turn to them - and that is really what this gathering here today is calling us to celebrate.

It is for me a great joy and an honour to be part of it, for it has been a source of enjoyment, and learning and friendship to have been a member of your community ever since you invited me to become a Companion of the Order in 1996.

Monastic celebrations, whatever the anniversary, whatever the measure of the anniversary might be - are always a source of pleasure, the occasion of sharing in praying and in partying. Each brings its own particular flavour and it gives me the very greatest pleasure to be with you here today for the celebration of a monastic milestone : 125 years since the foundation of the Order of the Holy Cross.

But since, my dear brothers and sisters, we are today here because we want to rejoice with this community whose membership is that of a monastic family whose roots go back so much longer than this actual anniversary, I want to start with an experience in Canterbury. The Dean and chapter invited the Benedictines of Bec Hellouin in Normandy to come for just one of those monastic celebrations which we all enjoy so much - the occasion for liturgy and feasting.

The response was rather chilling: ‘Le pere abbĂ© s’intĂ©resse seulement aux anniversaries millennaires.’ But it was taken as a challenge, and since a thousand year anniversary is never too far away in England they found one - and indeed it became a historic moment when abbots and abbesses from Europe and Britain came and sung Vespers in the cathedral for the first time since the Reformation and a joint blessing was given by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Basil Hume, himself a Benedictine and former abbot of Ampleforth.

I intend to follow that piece of advice and since in the Benedictine life it is never too difficult, I want to make my starting point the birth of St.Dunstan in 909. Here we have a man who in 942 re-established the Benedictine monastery at Glastonbury, and in 960, when he became abbot and archbishop of Canterbury, presided over far-reaching reforms in both the church and society of his day. He is the man above all responsible for establishing for the first time well organised, stable Benedictine life in Britain.

And, not least, he is traditionally held to be the first to have introduced the building of the monastic complex around a cloister, thereby bringing into Benedictine life that symbol of the centre of its life: empty, uncluttered and open space, the place of stillness which lies at the heart of all our Benedictine commitment to the love and service of Christ and of others.

“Shepherd and Servant”, as his biographer calls Dunstan, a practical man, and an able administrator, yet also an artist who was a skilled designer and metalworker and a musician, and not least a man of prayer formed in that contemplative tradition which was strong at Glastonbury, owing much it was said, to Irish influence there.

Thus we find in him someone who combined so many aspects of the ‘fullness of our humanity’, a phrase which I treasure, summarising as it does what Benedict would wish for all of us; and which was so central a theme in the way in which Thomas Merton introduced the young men at Gethsemani to the monastic life by insisting that we come to God not with the truncation of our humanity, but with the fullness of our humanity.

But we can actually come to know Dunstan - surely this is unique - because of a drawing that he made of himself. It is a delicate line drawing, lightly coloured and he shows himself as a small figure, his monastic cowl half thrown back, kneeling in prayer before a Christ who is portrayed as the Wisdom of God, a monumental and majestic figure, with a halo and a sceptre which is a budding rod, and holding a tablet on which is inscribed those words from Psalm 34: ‘Come my children and listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord’ - familiar to us from the Prologue to the Rule. It is a scene which is comparable to the depiction of the Transfiguration, in which the disciples, like Dunstan, are seen lying prostrate on the ground before the majesty of Christ.

And then, in what would be the bubble in a modern cartoon, he has added a little prayer in his own handwriting:
‘I beg you, O merciful Christ, to watch over me, Dunstan, and that you do not let the storms swallow me up.’

His life was indeed beset by storms, human and spiritual; his achievements not won without great conflict and cost. But he was above all a life-giver, and his contemporaries recognised this and called him ‘an unshakeable pillar of God’.

A role model!

* * *

Move on 200 years, and we remember 1109 - and the death of another of the great Benedictine saints for us today. We meet St Anselm who died on April 21st on the Wednesday of Holy Week surrounded at the moment of death by ‘the whole congregation of his sons’ exclaiming: ‘My lord and father we cannot help knowing that you are going to leave the world to be at the Easter court of your Lord’.

For this man, who was above all the learned philosopher, the man who was aware of a towering God, a God of unimaginable height of Being, was also the gentlest of men, sensitive, loving, with a great gift of friendship, as we see in his correspondence, those many letters both to lay and monastic, women as much as men.

He shows us in his own prayers how prayer to Christ is loving talk to a friend expressed with such gentleness:
Vaca aliquantulum Deo;
Et requiesce aliquantulum in eo
I read it in Latin since there we see the play with words that brings him such delight:
‘Go apart to be with God for a time and rest for a while in him’.
He shows us the monastic commitment to rigorous intellectual discipline combined with the underlying monastic tradition of meditation. He shows us that holding-together, that unity, which is the mark of the true Benedictine life. And, like Dunstan, we listen to him in a prayer — or to be precise, words from
the Proslogion which we say as a prayer: Lord my God, you who formed and reformed me - reformed me...

That commitment to transformation, transfiguration, which lies at the heart of the vow of conversatio morum is the commitment to continual, ongoing change which will make us over from the old into the new person . . .

Again we see what a role model we have in St Anselm. These are just two of those ‘Fathers and Friends’, as Thomas Merton liked to call his predecessors in the monastic life and whom we recall with gratitude as links in that chain which has brought us here today.

* * * * *

We have looked back to two great Benedictine figures of the past. And we know that Anselm turned back to Dunstan for encouragement, as Dunstan in turn looked back to St.Gregory the Great and found inspiration there, and that they each, as we do, turned back to the figure of St.Benedict himself.

How well I remember that precious time at Mariya u Mama we Themba, with the community in Grahamstown, when I was allowed to teach Emmanuel for a few short weeks. I decided to show him something of the Benedictine tradition by introducing him to the figure of Benedict himself, to a man whom he was soon to call ‘my friend - who will walk my journey with me’. The medium of my teaching was story telling, which comes so naturally to the African mind where the oral tradition is so strong. But then that is also how Gregory himself would have known of Benedict’s life through the stories told of him in the monastery. And I realised once again that it does make a very good story!

So together Emmanuel and I watched him as he spent time studying in Rome, and then that flight from academia, escaping with his Old Nurse . . . . How often we have read that in the Dialogues and found something slightly amusing in that phrase. But here, in the context of traditional story-telling, I suddenly saw in the old nurse, the old wise woman, the figure of Wisdom - Benedict leaves because he recognises the role of wisdom, the knowledge that lies beyond words, in the wisdom of the heart.

So we follow Benedict to the cave at Subiaco, where he holds himself still before the gaze of God - that small phrase which sums it all up so wonderfully, expressed so simply and so beautifully. This is the time that lays the significant foundation of all that is to follow in Benedict’s life. For that gaze is turned onto others, firstly on to the priest who greets him on Easter Day, and in whom he sees the
resurrected, Easter self, the true self in Christ. So that when I try to follow him in seeing Christ in all who come (such an amazing request, so simple and so demanding) I try to have this scene in mind and remind myself that, as always, Benedict is writing out of his own personal experience.. And then finally at the very end of his life, that gaze is turned on to the whole word, as he sees it gathered up, as it were, in one ray of light.

The gaze - so different from the glance or the stare. For to gaze turns merely glancing or looking into an act of seeing (whether it is seeing the other, or seeing the situation). To see is to be focussed on the other, seeing into the heart, the true interior self, without wanting to control or manipulate. I once heard Jean Vanier say ‘The very way you look at somebody has the power to transform them.’ From Benedict we learn to look with love, compassion, wonder, at the mystery of the other, and not least with gratitude. When we see the other as Christ, we do not see the exterior but the true interior self, the Christ self, the person who is ‘shining like the sun’ as Merton put it in that often quoted moment when he sees, as though for the first time, the people streaming along the pavement in Louisville.

It was also the way in which Helen Levitt, the New York photographer who died in March of this year, at the age of 95, had seen the streets of New York, with, as James Agee put it in the foreword to her book “A Way of Seeing”, a preoccupation with innocence, not as that word is misunderstood and debased, but in seeing potential - in the person, the situation . . .

And the other side, the failure to look in the way that Benedict would have us do...? In the words of Rowan Williams, speaking on the radio on Wednesday September 11th 2002, reflecting on what it had been like to be in New York as the twin towers dissolved into flame and rubble, as he was himself trapped in a neighbouring building: “The terrorist is someone who has got to the point where they can see only from a distance: the distance from which you can’t see a face, meet the eyes of someone, imagine who and what they love.” . . . . God never sees at a distance

* * *

We are called to many things, those of us who have encountered Benedict, and who like those men and women who encountered Christ in his earthly ministry cannot be the same because they are energised by this encounter. He does not dictate: he helps to form our attitude, our approach, our disposition. So, as I reflect on what this encounter with Benedict has meant to me I think immediately of how it has brought balance, structure, rhythm into my life, and how it has helped me to look at the world with reverence and respect, to handle the tools of daily life as through they were the sacred vessels of the altar - about paradox and so about holding things together - about the role of stability, an inner steadfastness allied to moving forward into continual transformation . . . . . and much more!

Every one of us can make their own list, but I guess that we would all agree that above all we have been helped to put prayer into its proper place at the heart of our lives, and that means continual praise and thanksgiving. So I am taking this opportunity to make my own personal act of gratitude - gratitude for everything that Benedict has brought me since I first stumbled on the Rule by chance and wrote the small book that was published 25 years ago this year, which is of course another anniversary, and one that makes me particularly happy to be here with you today, and to make an anniversary the occasion of my own looking back and looking forward. So I ask myself: What has changed for me over that time?

What is the new emphasis brought about by my own changing life and by the changes in the world around me? What has reading and thinking and praying and living into the Rule brought to me?

The response comes immediately: the mystical side of Benedict. As I watch the widespread and growing popularity of the Rule while I rejoice in it, I feel that it also carries its dangers. For while he must remain the most down to earth, practical and moderate of men, and it is natural to turn to him for help in becoming better disciples of Christ, quite naturally we begin asking how to deal with our lives better, and how to solve the problem of daily Christian living. Then there comes the danger - I am almost tempted to say that he is made to play the role of a spiritual therapist, and the Rule is approached as though it was a practical manual in how to improve our lives. This is not the whole picture. Indeed it is worse for it is a distortion. We follow a man who was mystical, urgent, passionate.

We must never forget the final words of the Prologue, when in speaking there of the paschal mystery everything else is brought into focus.

To recognise this, and to emphasise this, means that I have increasingly found that I am reading a man who delights in using those images and symbols which are so essential an aspect of the scriptures which shaped him. We cannot appreciate the fullness and depths of his message until we pick up the resonances and the allusions that lie just below the surface I am now beginning to appreciate how much the light of that vision at the end of his life casts its glow over the person that he himself was, and that he wants us to become. Deificum lumen. Mostly we read that simply as ‘the divine light’. But in Patrick Barry’s translation we read:

The light that makes us like God
The light that shapes us into the likeness of God

And then, as we pick up the Biblical reference which he probably had in mind, we find an echo of St Paul writing in 2 Corinthians:

We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
Are being changed into his likeness
From one degree of glory to another.

And then, a further insight into this verse - verse 9, of the Prologue, for apertis oculis nostris, ‘let us open our eyes’, carries the possible allusion, and one suggested by Terrence Kardong, to the Transfiguration where the disciples are startled by the shining forth of Christ and are instructed by the voice from Heaven, and they hear with ‘astonished ears’ so much more strong than translating attentis
auribus simply as alert, for now the words carry the suggestion of the element of awe and wonder.

If then, as I hope you agree, we find that the Transfiguration is the background here to these words of the Prologue, that leads me quite naturally into my final point. We are here for an anniversary celebration, one which brings the opportunity to pause for a moment, to think of it as a pivotal moment, a milestone, a staging post on the journey. And the pivotal moment in the Gospels, that staging post, par excellence, is of course, the scene of the Transfiguration.

If we return to that scene, and in particular, as it is portrayed in the representation in the ikon by Theophane the Greek, we see the dominant figure of Christ, whose gaze draws us towards him, his right hand held up in blessing, with Moses and Elijah on either side. Below them the disciples are climbing the mountain on the left hand side and then, on the right, they are descending - men with their faces now set towards Jerusalem and all that that will demand. Here everything centres on the figure of Christ, enclosed in a mandorla, representing the Trinitarian Godhead, and it is from this that the voice of the Father is heard, the voice echoing the words heard at Baptism.

And that of course is how the Rule opens: Listen, my son, the Biblical image. Each of us addressed as the Prodigal son. Each of us addressed as the Beloved Benedict has set the scene, and we live the rest of our lives (with his help) growing into the fullness of those gifts and blessings held out to us - and that includes the gift of continual, ongoing and never ending transformation, transfiguration.

The monastic life wants us to become fully alive, not half asleep, not half hearted. That means the astonished ears, and the alert eyes - people astonished and alert with awe and wonder. But not only the eyes and the ears, for we must add - since we know the whole of our selves to be God-given and worthy of respect - the hands which are open, the open heart, and not least the open mind . . . What an amazing agenda for all of us, and one that I believe was never needed more.

Two phrases have always haunted me over the years since I have been thinking about the role of the monastic tradition in the history of the church:
• ‘The religious life has always guarded the life of the church’
• ‘Monasticism has always been a movement on the cutting edge of Christianity’

But I would add, not only the church, but the whole of society, and above all, a challenge and a witness to all of us individually, whatever our vocation and calling may be.

Open our eyes - Merton’ s impassioned plea, read out as a prayer to Congress in Holy Week, 1962: ‘Open our eyes . . . save us from our obsessions! Dissipate confusions,’ and then finally ‘Grant us to see your face in the lightning of this cosmic storm’. Can we make this our prayer too, now more than ever?

Open our ears - ‘So much of our suffering comes from our failure to listen’ - Bishop Pike returning to his dioceses after a Benedictine Experience week in Grahamstown said this in a letter to his diocese telling them what was the essential message of the Rule, so much needed in that hurting world of South Africa, and now more than ever in an increasingly torn apart world.

Open our hands - the clenched fist is not ready to receive. But instead let us be gentle, learning to handle with reverence and respect not only material things, and the tools by which we earn our daily living, but matter itself, our earth, the environment.

Open our minds - Benedict told us to read from different sources, for he knew that truth can be expressed in a diversity of ways. If we learn from him he will help us to build a barrier against fundamentalism and polarisation.

Open our hearts - the gifts of hospitality asks of us not only the open door but a heart open to receive all who come as Christ.

That is the Christ to whom we now commit ourselves, and above all the brothers of the community of Holy Cross at this moment of their lives, together with their oblates, associates, friends, and not least the many who receive the hospitality of their monastic houses.

And may this same Christ bring us all together into his Kingdom. Amen


• What I say here about St Dunstan is largely taken from Douglas Dales, Shepherd and Servant, The Spiritual Legacy of Saint Dunstan, SLG Press, Oxford.

• The best short introduction to St Anselm is to be found in Benedicta Ward, Anselm of Canterbury, A Monastic Scholar, also SLG Press, 3rd edition, 2003. (Copies of these are available from the West Park bookstore)

• I make reference to Saint Benedict’s Rule, translation and introduction by Patrick Barry OSB, Mahwah, New Jersey, Hidden Spring 2004, and to Terrence Kardong, Benedict’s Rule, A Translation and Commentary, Colleegville, MN, Litugical Press, 1996.

• The full text of Thomas Merton’s Prayer for Peace, April 12 1962 can be found as the appendix of Passion for Peace, The Social Essays, edited and with an introduction by William H. Shannon, New York, Crossroad, 1995.

RCL - Proper 27 B - 08 Nov 2009

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Lary Pearce, OHC
RCL - Proper 27 B - Sunday 08 November 2009

1 Kings 17:8-16
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

The Transformation of the Widow's Mite

Today’s readings provide us with interesting ideas about the possibility of doing God’s will. In the Old Testament Lesson a great prophet assures a seemingly powerless woman that she too can be an instrument of God’s will. In the Gospel Jesus says that in the eyes of God the poor widow who gives her all for God’s glory does more than the rich man who gives to build up his own reputation. The epistle teaches that Christ himself intercedes in heaven for the honest giver.

Here Elijah is God’s messenger who assures the destitute widow of God’s providence. Elijah assures the widow with whom he wishes to stay that if she takes him in even though there is a major famine in progress, her jar of meal would not be consumed and her jug of oil would not be emptied until the day when the lord sent rain and fresh crops. What was required was that she trust in providence of God to fulfill her needs. She trusted and her supplies did not run out. This reminds me of the miracle of the loaves and fishes which fed the 5,000.

Christ has entered into a sanctuary not made by human hands to appear before the presence of God on our behalf. God himself enters into eternity to plead for us. Paul assures believers that things will be all right in eternity; his assurance does not extend to this world. The emphasis here is on the necessity of trust in God.

When Jesus encountered the poor widow who contributed her “mite” there was a big fund raising campaign underway. The king, Herod the Great started constructed of a new temple probably in 19 B.C. Construction was still underway in 33 A.D. Herod the Great was the author of the plan to replace the second temple which had been built 500 years earlier after the return from the Babylonian captivity. Herod, under Roman control, was a rich and powerful client king who ruled over much of the eastern Mediterranean. Powerful as he was, he was dependent on Rome. He was a paranoid ruler, willing to do anything rather than be assassinated. He even had his own son executed. One Roman wit said that he would rather be Herod’s pig than his son. Because Herod probably wouldn’t eat pork, the pig was less likely to be killed than his son. Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.; his death was particularly disgusting referred to guardedly as “Herod’s Evil.” His son Herod Antipas was still at work on the temple in Jesus time.

The widow poor as she was wanted to do what she could for the glory of God. Unlike the wealthy and powerful she gave everything she had to live on. Her gift was of greater merit than those of people wealthier than she. She gave everything; the wealthy gave only part. In God’s eyes her gift was of infinite value and contributed the building up of the Kingdom of God. The gifts of the wealthy and powerful contributed to the building up the earthly kingdom and, though good in themselves, were of finite value and would eventually perish. In fact Herod’s new temple was completely destroyed in 70 A.D. when the Romans suppressed the First Jewish Revolt. It didn’t last long.

When I think of the dichotomy between the early temple and the heavenly temple, I think of Mt. Calvary, the Order’s beautiful monastery in Santa Barbara. The building and its location were a place that was of almost other worldly beauty. Many holy things happened there and there were many holy people there. One of those holy people was Fr. Joseph Parsell, who spent most of his life as a monk and a missionary in Liberia. I believe he gave his all and I know absolutely that to his last breath he died loving Liberia and the Liberians. The Ghanaians affectionately called him “Fr. Buffy. He died in Santa Barbara. There was a wonderful memorial service for him at Mt. Calvary. Bishop Edward Neuville, then Bishop of Liberia, preached at the service. It was a holy event and commemorated a holy life of eternal value.

Mt. Calvary Monastery was a beautiful place where many holy things happened. When I think of the fire that completely destroyed it about a year ago, I still grieve. However, I trust in God’s mercy, and with Julian of Norwich I believe that on the last day God will work a great wonder, and “All will be well.”

Homily for Br. Bernard's Life Profession - 04 Nov 2009

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Sr. Hildegard Magdalen Pleva, OSsR
Profession of the Life Vow by Brother Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Wednesday 04 November 2009

Romans 8: 18-27

Luke 11:9-13

The early twentieth century British writer W. Somerset Maugham was a keen observer of human behavior. He was particularly astute concerning motivations of the mystical kind.
I have an idea, [he said,] that some men are born out of their due place…they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not…this sense sends men far and wide in search of something permanent…sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. (1)
The great St. Paul and my friend Bernard seem to me to have had that nostalgia, that longing, for a place they knew not. Each began life with a sure desire for God. Each followed life’s circuitous and astonishing path – an exploration of longing and discovery – to an end surprising and yet familiar.

Paul did not know that his dual identity as an educated Greek-speaking Jew and citizen of Rome uniquely suited him to God’s purpose in the plan of salvation. Bernard did not know that the longing in his heart would best be satisfied not in the canyons of Wall Street but in the monastic cloister.

Our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans spoke of “eager longing”, that desire of the heart to see the face of God. It is possible for the world to provide a trysting place for that desire. But the trick is to find the place, to find what Marist Brother Don Bisson describes as the best container for next stage of the journey to God, fertile ground for the process to which we are drawn, to find the home we long for but do not know.

Bernard has found that “place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs.” To live out of that longing, to live out of the desire for God, demands the virtue of hope. All creation groans in its steadfast clinging to the hope of salvation in our brother, Jesus Christ.

In a few minutes, after Bernard consecrates himself to the vows of stability, conversion to the ways of monastic life, and obedience to that life, we will hear an ancient and plaintive plea. It is a prayer rooted in Paul’s expression of longing and hope. “I have done what you asked, according to your promise, do not disappoint me in my hope.” How do we sustain such hope, hope in what cannot be seen?

In James Otis Sargent Huntington’s first rule for the Order of the Holy Cross, all the details of the rule are arranged according to three over-arching principles of monastic life: prayer, mortification and good works. Prayer, the first principle, makes all that follows possible. Prayer sustains our hope. Paul sees it this way too but he knows his failures in courage and assumes that we will have ours. So he consoles himself and us. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

The occasion of Bernard’s Life Profession, his solemn promise to follow the monk’s path of interior silence and solitude lived in community; his promise to make himself available for conversion of heart and generosity in service; that promise is made public today. In its wisdom, the Church makes it public so that the promise is known to us. In this way his promise becomes a mirror for our promises, every promise represented here; fidelity in marriage and relationship, dedication to nurturing children, the promises of the sacrament of ordination, perseverance in religious vows, faithfulness in honoring the true self, the mundane obligations of earning a living, or the duties of citizenship and service.

Neither our friend’s pledge here at this altar nor the ones we have made are easy to keep. “But the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

And Jesus, our Savior, whose promise is the source of Bernard’s hope today – our Jesus assures – “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Oh, blessed assurance.

And before all things, the monk is a person of prayer – a praying presence before the throne of God. One who, in the words of Thomas Merton, is “like the trees which exist silently in the dark and by their vital presence purify the air.” (2)

Many today question the need for any life long promises. They find the promise of religious vows particularly confounding. They do not appreciate the transformation and the joyful liberation made possible by the promise and its fulfillment. Such freedom is what St. Paul described as “the liberty of the children of God.

In that spirit of freedom, grounded in the love of Jesus - grounded in the Paschal Mystery of his life, death and resurrection - in that freedom, our friend, our brother Bernard, makes his pledge today.

Inspired by that love and with confidence in God’s Word, let us revisit our own promises. With Bernard, let us enter into our deepest longing. Let us recommit to the journey on our way to a home we have not seen, trusting that the Holy Spirit will be our guide.

Today we can pray with the poet T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning; ……..

Quick now, here, now, always –

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire.

And fire and the rose are one. (3)


(1) W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Six Pence

(2) Merton, Thomas, Basic Principles of Monastic Spirituality

(3) Eliot, T.S., “Little Gidding” in Four Quartets

Sunday, November 1, 2009

RCL - All Saints - 01 Nov 2009

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Adam McCoy, OHC
RCL - All Saints - Sunday 01 November 2009

Isaiah 25:6-9
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

We are here this morning to praise the saints, and so, as I speak this morning, I want each of you to think of a saint you have personally known – a holy person who touched your life, who helped you in your journey of faith, or who challenged you, or who opened up something new to you. Someone whose life brought you closer to God. In doing so, I want us to recognize something wonderful – that there are so many saints, so many, many saints. Who can count them?

But we can try. Yesterday I googled the question, How many saints are there? At the top of the pile of possible responses something called wikiAnswers gave two possibilities: for Protestants, everyone who receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour becomes a saint. This concept has the advantage of being based in scripture, where by one count there are between 40 and 50 uses of the word “saint” for “member of the church”. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” says St. Paul at the beginning of the Letter to the Romans. Such a large number! Who can count them?

For Roman Catholics, there are apparently some 10,000 saints recognized by name, which is a suspiciously round number, encouraging me to think that our wikiAnswerers haven’t counted one by one, but have a process analogous to the crowd counting in our nation’s capitol when there is a march or demonstration, in which the number reported seems to depend on your point of view. But let’s take the 10,000 as a starter. That’s just the named saints. Think of all the saints whose names we don’t know, beginning with the baby boys of Bethlehem, slaughtered by Herod because they were in the same age cohort as Jesus. It’s often that way with martyrs – they’re in the way of power, and so they’re mowed down like the grass of the field – not only do we not know their names, we don’t even know how many there were. Such a large number! Who can count them?

In our worship here at the Monastery there are so many saints we have to lump them into categories: apostles and evangelists, patristic martyrs, martyrs, doctors of the church, missionaries, monastics, teachers, pastors, confessors. The Blessed Virgin Mary gets her own category. And that doesn’t include Israel’s holy patriarchs, prophets, priests and kings, its matrons and mothers and women of war, our ancestors in the faith. Not every saint fits easily into these categories, but quite a lot do. The point is, there are so many that we can’t deal with each one individually, but we have to perform a sort of spiritual taxonomy to accommodate them, like lepidopterists with butterflies. Such a large number! Who can count them?

The saints can also provide a lens through which to view the history of the Church. St. Paul and the other writers of Epistles expected that people called into the Fellowship of Jesus Christ would be saints. This is an attractive notion, but over time it proved to have its problems as an adequate description of Church membership. In the succeeding age the dominant type of saint is the confessing martyr, the believer who suffers for his faith, of whom Stephen in Acts is the proto-martyr. As Christianity assumed power, saintly action moved from the martyrdom of blood to the martyrdom of askesis, to the desert fathers and mothers, to Anthony and Pachomius in Egypt; to the study, to brilliant theologians like Basil and Gregory Nazianzen and Augustine; to church leaders like Pope Leo the Great and preachers like John Chrysostom; and even to politicians, like Constantine himself. As the Roman empire disintegrated, at least in the West, and society became less sophisticated, a new kind of saint arose, the fearless missionary wielding God’s power, like Martin of Tours, and in the East the ascetic channeling divine power for the people, like Simeon Stylites. As the Middle Ages progressed, so did the need for saintly power, to the point that no church was complete without a saint present in bodily form, offering access to the throne of grace to every ordinary needy person who came and prayed and wanted to change. Monks and mystics, scholars and the very simple, royals and peasants, famous church leaders and the nameless faithful, they are all there. Such a large number! Who can count them?

And with the Reformation and the beginning of the modern world, a new kind of saint: the person made holy by opposition to the Church itself, the follower of truth for the sake of the Gospel as that saint understood it, the Protestants first, and then the Catholics, speaking truth to power: William Tyndale the translator of the Bible and Thomas More, the upholder of papal power, both of them speaking the truth to Henry VIII. We can still hear the screams from England’s martyr fires and from the autos da fe of the Inquisition, we can still see the blood running in the streets of Paris in the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre, we can still smell the reek of gunpowder, destruction, famine and death from the Thirty Years War which destroyed as much as 30% of the populations of Central Europe in the name of the Faith. So many lost for faith. Such a large number! Who can count them?

And in our own day: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Janani Luwum, Martin Luther King, to name only the most famous. Such a large number! Who can count them?

There is so much holiness. The famous, public holiness of the martyrs, the holiness of blood, but also the quieter holiness of dedication to the welfare of others, the holiness of those who choose their work to benefit the rest of us. And the quietest of all, those who choose the path of love rather than the path of self, for whom philia replaces eros, and for whom then agape replaces philia, working selflessly with little reward or regard, grandmothers, teachers, friends of the destitute and the lost and the lonely and the innocent and the ignorant and the irresponsible, who stand like beacons of light in a world that seems to be not very friendly to its children. Think of the saints I asked you to find in your own life. Our own encounters with holiness show us another way, a better way, a possibility that the world is different than we thought, that the world is in fact God’s world, shot through with rays of love and hope and joy. Such a large number! Who can count them?

I have spent so much time enumerating saints – and I’ve left quite a lot of them out – because I want us to consider that as Christians we are called to a different reality. The “world” is always presenting itself to us as a problem. It wants us to believe that life is a problem to be solved. Most of us here today are from New York. Is anything ever good enough for New Yorkers? Of course not. Life is problems. If they can be solved, there will be more problems to be solved, and then more problems, and then more problems. The multi-headed hydra should be our mascot: solve one problem and nine others spring up in its place. Problems without end. Or so we are told.

But the way of faith – the way of the saints – presents a different reality: a world infused with God’s inbreaking love and undefeatable goodness, a goodness which never stops calling out for witnesses, which never stops recruiting collaborators. Who could have imagined how much holiness the revelation of God to his people would let loose in the world? Who could imagine the millions of lives that are entry portals for the love of God into the world? Who would have thought the transcendent holiness of God could be found in the murky depths of the last days of Nazi Germany, or in a car on a dusty rural road in Uganda, or in an inexpensive motel in Memphis? And yet the bright light of God shone there. And where else might it shine? For in truth, God’s goodness in the world is not limited by the capacity of the Christian community to express it.

I want to suggest that a large part of our work as Christians is to learn to see the signs of sanctity. We need to develop an eye for saints, as the botanist develops an eye for plants. I remember driving upcountry in Liberia from Monrovia to Bolahun years ago with Brother Laurence. The vegetation on either side of the road was just green to me. It didn’t seem much like the African jungle of my imagination, and I was disappointed. I was looking for Tarzan, I suppose. Or an elephant, at least. But then Laurence started to show me, like the science teacher he was, which trees were the rubber trees, and what that meant in the economy of Liberia, and my eyes were opened.

We have to be trained to see. And once we are, our consciousness is changed. Too often we accept the “world’s” terms and see mainly problems, which are so great that we are overwhelmed. But truly those problems are only part of the reality of God’s world. What if we change our focus and train ourselves also to see holiness, also to see joy, also to see generosity? Who in the circle of our friends is being kind, right now? Who is bearing a burden they don’t have to bear? Who is giving so that another may have? That is holiness. Train ourselves to see. Who in our community is working harder? Who is giving sacrificially? Who is quietly going about their daily work with integrity and skill when they could more easily slack off? We can all see the great heroes of holiness. We need to learn to see the holiness around us now. The Holy Spirit is at work. Let us train our eyes to see.

And when we do, the world is different. Instead of the grey place of problems, it is the field of God’s love, filled in unexpected ways with the love and power and joy and light and life of God. The world is alive with holiness. It breathes holiness. Its life is God’s holiness in the lives of His people. Is there any more unexpected place to find God than on a cross? Then why should we be surprised to find God around the corner, down the street, in this very room? Look around you. The Holy Spirit is here, at work, now, this instant.

I cannot put it better than that great prophetic sonnet of Gerard Manley Hopkins (God's Grandeur - poem from 1918):
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.