Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gagging on Zechariah

Today is the Feast Day of St. Luke and, since one of our sabbaticants is working on a project on Luke's gospel, I suggested that we throw a party in her honor. But, the Institute Board is coming tomorrow and we are all working hard to put our three minute speech together. Besides, we had a gathering last night in the Great Hall with the monks where the food was rich and there was more wine than I've ever seen and nobody wants to party now anyway because it's snowing and the north wind is blowing again.

Going to Evening Prayer has become something of a chore, due to this return of winter weather. You walk up the hill into the cold north wind and, to top it all off, now it's dark as well. Can you imagine what it must have been like someplace like the Island of Iona if you were a monk? I'd not only want one of those black wool gowns, I'd want some breeches as well.

Needless to say, all of this change in the weather creates havoc with one's health. So far, knock on wood, I've only had to fight off a bit of an eye infection. But one poor monk, who was serving as lector the other night, got stuck reading through this long, dispassionate passage from the prophet Zechariah. This is one of the dangers of the monastic approach to the Liturgy of the Hours--you sometimes find yourself in these long passages from the Bible through which you have to plow in a lectio continua manner.

So, just as we have pictured in Scripture, this poor guy has to swallow these prophetic words and he literally gets choked up. I'm sure it was just a bit of phlegm but it was clear that he was in distress. As his voice grew ever more gravel-like, he paused and had a period of spasmodic caughing. Then he paused again and tried to compose himself. But he couldn't--Zechariah's blather was stuck in his throat. And, instead of looking to the hills from whence cometh our help, his eyes lifted to the south side of the choir. Fortunately, two monks rose ready to take over and the younger came forward to do his duty. The poor lector had to withdraw in indignity.

I wondered what Eugene Peterson would have made of this? (I could envision in my mind's eye Robin Williams playing the role of the monk and groveling on the floor of the chancel, only to keel over in front of the altar in a spasm of acute muscular distress--but that's another movie). But, more seriously, I was reminded how many times I choke, at least metaphorically, on the Scriptures. "What's that you say, God? You've got to be kidding, right?" I guess these little windows into our humanity oftentimes ironically point us in the way of truth. In the mean time, I'm going to take it easy when it comes to those minor prophets.