I spent last week at Holy Cross Monastery, located in West Park, New York along the Hudson River. Part of the Order of the Holy Cross, the brothers are an Anglican Benedictine Community of Men whose primary work as a community is worship and prayer. The Monastery has a ministry to the community, offering hospitality and worship.
What brought me to Holy Cross was the annual Retreat with Adults Who Work With Youth, led by Jenifer C. Gamber, author of My Faith, My Life and musician Fran McEndree. Being able to reconnect with others whose passion is youth ministry was my primary goal, the second being some time away for personal reflection and rest. I received both. (You can also check out participant and photographer George Reiner’s blog for another perspective of the retreat and life at the monastery).
Outside of our plenary gatherings and group meditations, I spent my time in my little room (one might call it a ‘cell’) reading, writing, and yes, sleeping. I realized the rhythm of the day in a monastic community fit me well, and I grew more and more comfortable sitting in the chapel in silence, being summoned five times a day by the tolling of bells.
The day begins with Matins at 7:00am, followed by a silent breakfast. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated at 9:00am and the day then commences with whatever one might choose to do. At noon, we gathered again in the church for Diurnum (Midday Office) followed by lunch. The first part of the meal is eaten in silence, as one of the brothers reads a chapter from a book. While there I learned a little about how the Puritans (and others) determined whether the Sabbath was to be on Saturday or Sunday – a random piece of information. The work day closes with Vespers at 5:00pm. Compline is sung at 8:30pm in anticipation of God’s care through the night, followed by silence until we join together again at Matins in the morning.
Entering the “great silence” for about 12 hours brought new meaning to the opening sentences of Matins, which we also say in Morning Prayer at the Invitatory:
- Officiant: Lord, Open our lips.
- People: And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
The services were all chanted, and we were invited to participate in singing (quietly), allowing the brothers to hear each other as they seek to sing with “one voice.” With candles and incense, one can really enter another dimension in time and space.
A treat was being at Holy Cross on the Feast Day of St. Michael & All Angels, September 21st. Brother Andrew’s sermon was particularly thought provoking:
Next year will be my fiftieth anniversary of ordination – fifty years of pastoring, praying and preaching. And this is the first time I remember preaching about the angels!!!
That feels odd because Scripture is full of angels… from the Garden of Eden to the garden in Revelation. Angels with Abraham, angels with Lot, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel. Hosts of them at the Birth of Jesus. They appear to kings, to the poor. They glorify God in heaven and tromp the earth. They are fearful and beautiful. Some are righteous and some are crooked. They bear good news and they mutiny and rebel.
How come I’ve never preached on them? Well, we’ve become so rational and so intellectually elite that we scorn such quaint ideas. Unless, of course, we’ve gone off the deep end and into that place where people see angels everywhere… guarding their cars, in the garden like gnomes and fairies, or hovering over babies.
We don’t become angels when we die; they don’t get their wings when a bell on a Christmas tree rings; Della Reese and John Travolta are not angels! Nor do we become angels when we die. Cherubs were never babies.
We’ve given up the angels! We have let them go to those we call superstitious or the naïve. We have turned them into shadows of themselves and stolen their power. The mystery and beauty have become suspect.
But Scripture shows us beings with power. Maybe that’s why we don’t mention them. We don’t quite understand what they’re all about. They’re messengers. They speak for God…and so we fear them. Each instance of their appearing seems to be imbued with awe. They don’t look different, but their power and presence means that they usually have to start their messages with “Do not be afraid.” Fearful and wonderful!
I think most faiths have the equivalent of our angels – beings from the heart of the Divine power who testify and challenge and protect the created universe.
It’s sad that we ignore them and I miss them. Especially now, I miss them. Now when other powers are rampaging in rage and arrogance and blindness through the world.
Michael, Archangel, we need you! We need your righteous sword that will cast down injustice and war-mongering. Defy tyrants. Stand in darkened rooms where children are raped and protect them. Raise your hand against wife beaters and bullies. Give power to the weak; strength to the afflicted.
Gabriel, Archangel, who stood before the Maiden and announced a Savior, speak again! Speak of the One who comes to dark and empty places in the human soul. Call us back! Proclaim the freeing Word that gives hope to the hopeless and joy to the mourners. Announce the coming of the One who restores and makes new.
Raphael, Archangel, spread healing in famine ridden Africa and in Asia; and in our military hospitals, in half-way houses, and under the bridges where homeless people shelter. Fight for an end to endemic illnesses; bring nourishment to the people starving needlessly. Teach us to spend our resources on life not on death.
Uriel, Archangel, you stand in God’s Presence where there is only Light. Shine Light in our darkness. This world is subsumed by the darkness of greed in business, in government. Light must shine on the needs of the poor; on prisoners and addicts.
Angels in all your hosts, strengthen our voices to glorify the Redeemer, to speak to and for the lonely and voiceless. Guard our children, cradle the sorrowful. Shine, for God’s sake shine!
Now maybe that’s too outlandish for belief. Maybe I’m verging too far on superstition.
But I don’t care. If you don’t believe in the angels, then for Christ’s sake become one. Become a healer, and a proclaimer; become a warrior against hunger and hopelessness and evil. Be a Light Bearer in the darkness around us.
Do that for Love’s sake and, believe me, you will find yourself on the side of the Angels…you will be Messengers of God, bearers of good tidings, protectors and lovers of God and God’s people. And the angels will rejoice!
That’s probably good enough!