It was a tremendous thing to hear the terrible cries of Jeremias resounding along the walls of that dark church buried in the country. “...Attend and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow ... From above He hath sent fire into my bones, and hath chastised me: He hath spread a net for my feet, He hath turned me back, He hath made me desolate, wasted with sorrow all the day long.”
It was not hard to realize Whose words these were, not difficult to detect the voice of Christ, in the liturgy of His Church, crying out in the sorrows of His Passion, which was now beginning to be relived, as it is relived each year, in the churches of Christendom.
At the end of the office, one of the monks came solemnly out and extinguished the sanctuary light, and the sudden impression froze all hearts with darkness and foreboding. The day went on solemnly, the Little Hours being chanted in a strange, mighty, and tremendously sorrowful tone, plain as its three monotonously recurring notes could possibly make it be, a lament that was as rough and clean as stone. After the Gloria in Excelsis of the Conventual Mass, the organ was at last altogether silent: and the silence only served to bring out the simplicity and strength of the music chanted by the choir. After the general Communion, distributed to the long slow line of all the priests and monks and brothers and guests, and the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose—slow and sad, with lights and the Range Lingua—came the Maundy, the Mandatum, when, in the cloister, the monks washed the feet of some seventy or eighty poor men, and kissed their feet, and pressed money into their hands.
And through all this, especially in the Mandatum, when I saw them at close range, I was amazed at the way these monks, who were evidently just plain young Americans from the factories and colleges and farms and high-schools of the various states, were nevertheless absorbed and transformed in the liturgy. The thing that was most impressive was their absolute simplicity. They were concerned with one thing only: doing the things they had to do, singing what they had to sing, bowing and kneeling and so on when it was prescribed, and doing it as well as they could, without fuss or flourish or display. It was all utterly simple and unvarnished and straightforward, and I don’t think I had ever seen anything, anywhere, so unaffected, so unself-conscious as these monks. There was not a shadow of anything that could be called parade or display. They did not seem to realize that they were being watched—and, as a matter of fact, I can say from experience that they did not know it at all. In choir, it is very rare that you even realize that there are any, or many, or few seculars in the house: and if you do realize it, it makes no difference. The presence of other people becomes something that has absolutely no significance to the monk when he is at prayer. It is something null, neutral, like the air, like the atmosphere, like the weather. All these external things recede into the distance. Remotely, you are aware of it all, but you do not advert to it, you are not conscious of it, any more than the eye registers, with awareness, the things on which it is not focused, although they may be within its range of vision.
Certainly one thing the monk does not, or cannot, realize is the effect which these liturgical functions, performed by a group as such, have upon those who see them. The lessons, the truths, the incidents and values portrayed are simply overwhelming.
For this effect to be achieved, it is necessary that each monk as an individual performer be absolutely lost, ignored, overlooked.
Lost, ignored, overlooked. I think everyone feels like this at some time in their lives. A person doesn't seek out isolation or anonymity, unless you're a monastic, I guess. But I sort of hate people who seek out the limelight. Who have to be constantly affirmed with praise or attention. They exhaust me.
Perhaps I was a monk in a former life, because I'm very comfortable being ignored and overlooked. It might be the way I was brought up. You just do what is right, and don't stop for applause or thanks. My mom was like that. Worked hard her whole life, and did it because "that's just what you do" she said to me once.
It has been a long week full of big ups (speaking with Joy Harjo) and big downs (a school suspension for my son--not going to get into it), among other things. When I get home at night, after all of my work is put to bed, I find that all I want to do is sleep. Perhaps it's the loss of sunlight as we tilt toward the winter solstice. Perhaps it's a little depression from the loss of my mother. Or perhaps it's just exhaustion after a couple months of toil. Good toil, but toil nonetheless.
I sort of understand why animals go into hibernation around this time of year. A four- or five-month snooze sounds pretty good to me. But, of course, the holidays are fast approaching. Thanksgiving is next week. Then the gallop toward Christmas.
I have lots to accomplish prior to December 25th. In fact, I have a lot to accomplish by Sunday. Church services and a poetry workshop and grading. I'm not complaining. I'm just trying to organize the weekend in my mind. That's just what I do, as my mother used to say.
If you see me tomorrow or the next day, ignore or overlook me if I growl at you.
Saint Marty just needs a glass of wine and a long winter's nap.
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