Monasticism and Asceticism (part III)

The previous year I spent the night reading the book of Isaiah, from chapter 1 verse 1 to its climactic finish in chapter 66 verse 24. Afterwards I read the book of Acts, went to an early morning prayer meeting then onto a the Quiet Day on Holy Island to read Peter Brook on Artaud. This year myself and TMBI (Monastic Ball of Intensity) decided to do a night of Psalms. We would start the evening by doing Compline and read every Psalm through the night interspersing them with prayers of Cuthbert. Having been inspired by the Northumbria Community recently I used the Compline for the day (Tuesday) which happened to be a compline in dedicated to St Cuthbert…this was apt!

There were four, barefoot men who took it in turns to read all 150 Psalms; some softly, others shouted. What struck me as I spoke out prayers, laments, praises and sorrows was how quickly the tone changes in the Psalms, one moment you’re proclaiming the love and grace of God the other you’re stating that God has left you.

The other interesting thing I discovered was there were several times when I didn’t connect, personally, with the prayers of the Psalmist. I wasn’t sure where I was spiritually or emotionally as I went into this vigil but I found myself expressing things and thinking “I don’t really feel this right now.” However, the more I tried to inhabit the Psalm the more I felt the pain or joy or whatever emotion drove the particular psalm. Reading them and inhabiting the prayers gave me an opportunity to develop emotional memory. I have never feared for my life like the psalmists have but by placing myself in their position and delving into their emotional prayers I was able to empathize with them. As the night went on I began to really connect with the sentiments and human experiences painted throughout this collection of songs.

When we got to the final 4 chapters at 3.30am the four of us stood around the Bible by candlelight, watching the light begin to appear behind the stained glass window of depicting the crucified Christ.

Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.

As the praises built to their exultant crescendo, our voices raised to hoarse shouts as we all battled to shout louder than the others. The incense had filled the chapel, the candles’ smoke licked the air and we stood, four disciples praising God, cold, tired but joyful.

We left in the early morning light and walked home together discussing what we had experienced. Some common phrases came through for us. One was The Message’s translation of ‘his steadfast love endures forever.’

His love never quits!

Despite all the isolation, rejection we may feel from God ‘His love never quits.’ What remained for me, though, was how the prayers continually asked for mercy to be shown to us who have strayed or made mistakes and how quickly the psalmists pray that God shows no mercy to our enemies. I still find it difficult to pray that our enemies’ children’s skulls get smashed against the rock! As I arrived home I realized that the Psalms articulate every human emotion even vengeance, this doesn’t mean that God will answer those prayers but He will allow us to state them and for us to feel them because as soon as the psalmists pray for destruction on their enemies they soon realize that they themselves are also corrupt and deserve punishment and so the mercy shown to them is to be shown to all who are corrupt and,

Who is blameless before the LORD?

Sarah, not expecting me home, had left her key in our front door and I didn’t want to wake her up (I was also very tired and not thinking logically) so I decided to have a nap in our car. This was a bad mistake! I woke after a disturbed nap of an hour and rang our house phone (Sarah had turned her mobile off!) I was cold… really cold. I slipped into our bed shivering and with muscle spasms.

I woke again an hour later and got up to walk back into college to tidy up and prepare for the Quiet Day away.

When we got to Holy Island we were led through The Northumbria Community’s Morning Prayer and were re-introduced to Cuthbert and Aidan. I had spent the night with the memory of St Cuthbert but really felt called to walk this day with Aidan.

St. Aidan was called to Nortumbria by King Oswald after a failed mission trip by another missionary. Aidan became a popular and much loved Bishop because he focussed on relationship and meeting people where they were. Aidan was more of a missionary than a hermit but lived a life of balance; using his times alone to fuel his times with others. His life and prayers have been, in recent weeks, sources of great encouragement and inspiration.

I sat for some time on Cuthbert’s Island, the screams of the seals absent, staring at the mainland. I was struck, again, by the gulf of sea separating me from the millions of people living their life in England. I felt torn. Spiritually do I want to sit here, isolated and alone praying and ensuring my own house is sorted before heading out? Or do I cross the gulf and live amongst people? Aidan’s prayer (see Monasticism and Asceticism (appendix i) post) helped me to reflect on this. and again the psalms came to mind. I am a worm, nothing, but God’s steadfast love endures forever. There are times when people do my head in and I want everyone to leave me alone, stop demanding so much from me and give me space to be but as I pray for ‘justice’ and punishment to be brought upon them I remember that His love never quits!