Franciscan Spirit Blog

Seven Days with the Psalms: Heaven on Earth

It’s the last day of May, and I’ve come to the Holy Family Monastery because my friend Lynn shared that they have an outdoor Stations of the Cross here. I’m desperate. All the churches are closed; mine rings its bells every night at 10:00 p.m. for those who have perished with the coronavirus, now 100,000 dead. The headlines are crushing; a white policeman murdered a black man this week as he was gasping for breath and crying out Mama. The cities in my country explode in outrage and grief. I’ve spent the last three months very alone in the quarantine, but I hunger for the solitude of sinking into a sacred place alone.

Whoever’s designed this retreat spot has done it with thoughtfulness and maintains it with care. I’m grateful for the efforts. I can’t hold the agony of that Mama! alone. I have no specific plan for this morning except to pray, pray slowly. An alabaster statue of Our Lady is glowing against the umber trunks of the edge of the forest. She’s set high within a faux rock wall, fuchsia orchids at her feet. I will save her for last, like saving the thick top of buttercream frosting on a piece of holiday cake.

The Stations of the Cross are set along a well-worn dirt path that curves in the woods. Each station is engraved on a pewter plaque and hung within a wooden triangle on a pole to make a little roof. There are no words, just images sketched of him walking toward his murder. I can identify Jesus Meets His Mother. I challenge myself to name them all, though it’s a bit hard to tell if Jesus has fallen. I follow a sign that reads “Labyrinth,” and it takes a few long minutes of traversing in the woods to find it.

It has the most breathtaking center, another faux rock tower with a deliberate huge hole in the center which encourages being at peace with emptiness, very Zen. The monastery houses an organization called the Copper Beech Institute, where they study mindfulness, yoga, and Zen teachings. It makes my heart open to wander trails that support the Christian beliefs that are mine, and the Eastern philosophies I also alight on. Merton would love it here, and I follow his example. If separate faiths can overlap, harmonize, it stirs hope.

I head back through the dappled paths to the stone benches near the parking lot. I settle in with my notebook and look up at the sturdy flagpole, thirty feet in the air with a brass knob on the top. It blows with long powder-blue and white streamers, a pair clipped to each side, north, south, east, west, made of weather-resistant material. The scantest wind lifts them. They twist and flutter. Somehow, they never get tangled, producing such a gentle sound that the bumble bee that rises is discordant in comparison. Clouds pass for a long while. The streamers move together in the sky, airborne, flying this way and that on the Peace Pole. There’s no country’s flag on the pole. Just streamers. Is this what people think of when they think of heaven?

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I wonder if it could happen—could we have more heaven here on earth?

Wisdom from the Psalms

The psalms repeatedly encourage us to tell the truth of how hard life can be.

“How long Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?” (Ps 13:1-3).

Can you bring your deepest sorrow directly to God today? See if, after doing so, your heart can now pivot and be filled with peace.

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