Posted September 07, 2011 in New Millennium:
Go Forth - But Stay Put

by Fr. David May.

Most of my days are spent chained to a chair. Well, not exactly "chained," but Catherine did call the duty of the moment "a chain without chains, for love has no chains" to emphasize the determined yet loving adherence we should have to doing what God asks.

And what God mostly asks me to do on any given day is to sit in a chair in my office upstairs over the Madonna House kitchen. This probably doesn’t sound to you like a very exciting existence.

You may have a point. I notice that when I’ve written about my current daily life in MH, I’ve tended to tell you about prayer walks, cleaning house, gardening, bird-watching, trips to field houses, and pilgrimages to Russia, Rome, and the like.

Other than the big trips, a lot of that stuff is pretty prosaic, I realize. Still, it’s probably more interesting than sitting in a chair.

Mind you, I’m not sitting in a chair looking out the window. I can do that from the bedroom, which overlooks the Madawaska River.

There one can watch the river in its various seasons and accompanying sky, people on the front lawn, ducks and loons in the river, occasional eagles and more frequent gulls and crows flying overhead, or a mother woodpecker on the soft maple tree tenderly feeding her offspring.

No, I only sit there briefly in the early mornings while praying part of my Breviary.

Much of the rest of the time is spent in a chair in the office, which overlooks the roof of the woodshed by the kitchen.

Or I can turn the other way and see a filing cabinet, the stove pipe from the kitchen passing through on its way to the roof, and a lot of pictures of members of the priests’ department throughout its sixty years—depending on which wall my eyes fall upon.

Right now I’m sitting in the chair that faces the woodshed—and this computer. I spend a lot of time in this position: writing letters, checking email, typing up stuff for Madonna House, and the like.

Here I check the Internet for news and the weather for Barry’s Bay, since I give news headlines and weather several mornings a week to the community.

I’m not sure that staring at a computer screen several hours a day is the best thing, but it has ended up that this is what I do for MH much of the time.

A lot of spiritual direction is typed on this keyboard, and more of the face-to-face variety is done by turning around and facing the opposite way—sitting, of course.

Did you ever notice that sitting in a chair is not as active a posture as standing, walking, running, swimming, carving, hammering, biking, or even kneeling? Sitting often has to do with just looking at something, or someone.

Sitting is a way of contemplating, even receiving; there is something about this posture that leans in a meditative direction, even if one is contemplating one’s thoughts as they appear in written form on a computer screen. There they are! The words my mind is forming at this time. Do they convey truly and accurately what it is I need to say?

There it is! The face of someone in the room whom I am listening to intently. To sit before that person is to be in a position that receives what he or she wants to impart, and more deeply, it is to receive that very person into my heart.

Sitting implies stillness, receptivity, not being the primary initiator of what’s happening, but rather responding to what one is given. For not doing much of anything, sitting can be quite an intense activity!

"Chained without chains, for love has no chains." For me sitting in this chair has become a metaphor for commitment to whatever the Lord asks at a given time.

Just be there, David! Just do it! Don’t run away. Don’t evade. Don’t duck. Don’t move. Be still—and let God come to you any way he pleases. Let God bring to you whoever he sends, let him set the pace, let him mark the parameters.

It being September 2011, one cannot help but remember September 2001. Along with the rest of the world, we at Madonna House were in shock by what had happened on that day in New York City and Washington, DC.

Since it was a Tuesday, I was in poustinia, and someone came over to the cabin on the island to tell me the news.

It was hard to stay in the poustinia after that. I came over to the main house (where I’m now writing this article) to see how people were doing and to catch a bit of news on the television.

For the most part, to their credit, people here just kept to the task at hand. The garden crew was moving irrigation hoses for watering the flowers; the kitchen crew produced meals as usual. Life in the little "village" of Madonna House went on—perturbed but undisturbed.

Truthfully, we were in great anguish for the victims and their families, but we carried them in the work of our hands as much as by the cry of our hearts that day, culminating in the evening liturgy.

We are well imbued here with the teaching of Catherine that the duty of the moment is the duty of God, the "sacrament" of his presence.

If we are in union with the Lord at that level, we are doing what he wants us to do: to bring about his plan for the world, our poor, shattered and often broken world.

Now, ten years later, we hear much news of wars and rumor of wars. And God help us, there are millions for whom it is not just a matter of hearing but of experiencing the nightmare by day and by night.

In response, some of us are called to simply "sit in our chairs." But, of course you understand that this is not a matter of evasion but of obedience and trust in the mysterious designs of God.

How many of you reading this are "chained without chains" to the duties of your lives: caring for family—cooking, cleaning, building, planting, moving?

How many of you are working in a job that is necessary, but perhaps not all that interesting? How many have a whole network of people you care for that are a source of concern and anguish for you simply because you love them and want the best for them?

How many are sitting unemployed or underemployed or looking for a dream that has never quite been fulfilled?

To follow Christ is to be free! To follow Christ means also to be chained to the demands of love and service, because in our freedom, he invites us to give all, even as he did for us.

For some of us that may mean sitting a lot in a chair. For others, it may mean a life constantly on the move. For most of us it’s a combination of many different postures, all adding up to the same thing: love poured out simply because he asks for it to be this way, today. And in trust, one simply obeys and follows his lead.


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