Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hiking to Stella Maris Chapel

Yesterday, I hiked three miles to an old stone chapel called "Stella Maris" which lies on the other side of Lake Sagatagan (one of six lakes on the St. John's property). Smelling the pine trees, watching the squirrels and chipmunks scurry for cover, and listening to the sounds of frogs in the marsh reminded me of the power of nature to bring healing. I find myself so task-oriented and driven by a work ethic that it is oftentimes difficult for me to simply be still and to clear my head. When I finally arrived at the chapel, I pulled out the water bottle and four squares of dark chocolate to celebrate having made it thus far. The view was glorious on a sunny day across to the beach and campus and I had the place all to myself.

As we celebrated Morning Prayer today at 7 a.m. in the large chapel, we began with a tune by Thomas Tallis (1567), a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I. Thomas Ken (1695) penned these words:
"Awake, be lifted up, O heart, and with the angels bear your part, who all night long unwearied sing high praise to the eternal king."
"Lord, we our vows to you renew; disperse our sins as morning dew; guard our first springs of thought and will, and with yourself our spirits fill."

Then, we launched into that beautiful hymn of praise (Psalm 65:9-12):
"Thou visitest the earth and waterest it, thou greatly enrichest it . . . thou waterest its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth . . . The pastures of the wilderness drip, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy."

There is a danger for folks like me that we can get so preoccupied with the tasks at hand that we miss the beauty of God all around us. I was struck this morning as we made our way through the liturgy just how patient the Benedictines are as they move from stanza to stanza, psalm to canticle. They move slowly, sedately, breathing in and out carefully. I want to rush through the prayers more often than not, so that I can get to whatever comes next. I was made conscious, once again, of my body and how the words need to come much more naturally--like breaths. So, I am trying my hardest not to worry about the lecture to come, the articles to be written, and the books to be yet checked out. This morning we will gather, the eight of us along with the Institute staff, for our Orientation. But, for this day, at least, I need to try and breathe and to become conscious of all God's good works around me. Seeing the sunshine and basking in the glories of God's nature will just have to be enough.