The long journey of life’s little treasures
Rev. Torey Lightcap
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
“If you find some paragraph or sentence that interests you, stop reading and turn it over in your mind and absorb it and contemplate it and rest in the general, serene, effortless consideration of the thought, not in its details as a whole, as something held and savored in its entirety: and so pass from this to rest in the quiet expectancy of God.”
I found these words this week in a first-edition copy of Thomas Merton’s “Seeds of Contemplation,” published in 1949. The book itself has an interesting provenance: it was purchased and first owned by a monk at the Holy Cross Abbey in Canon City, a certain Brother Meinrad Chung (Order of St. Benedict), who died in March 1992.
Somewhere along the way, Brother Meinrad’s copy of the book was given to the library at the abbey, and further down the line it was decommissioned and put into a public sale, where it was picked up by a friend of one of my distant acquaintances. Four years ago, it ended up in my hands.
Situated on the east end of Canon City, Holy Cross Abbey is a gorgeous Gothic structure on spacious grounds that abut property that used to be its own winery. But the winery has since been sold to another party and, truth be told, the abbey itself is no longer occupied by monks. Different time now, different place.
Even so, in my mind’s eye I can see this man I’ve never seen, this Brother Meinrad, tending a vine or keeping bees or scrubbing the hall or whatever. I can see him stooping at prayer, participating in the distribution of the consecrated bread in the Eucharist. I can see him in the library to which his copy of Merton went, writing letters to his aunt or leaning hard into a well-worn edition of St. Gregory’s “Dialogues” that describe the life of his man Benedict.
I can see him ensconced in the daily rhythms ” the prayer, the study, the work. I can see him taking his meals in silence in the abbey’s refectory, thoughtfully bending over soup and bread. I can see him strolling the grounds, stopping his finger on this passage on page 148 in “Seeds of Contemplation,” taking pleasure in the way the words sounded, resting in the “general, serene, effortless consideration of the thought.”
And in the end, I can see Brother Meinrad’s brothers around his deathbed on a crisp day, March 20, 1992 … twenty monks in their ranks making plans for a requiem mass. Planning to note his passing as a resting “into the quiet expectancy of God.”
Pick up any thing you know has been well-used ” some book, maybe, or that special coffee cup you took out of your mother’s cupboard when you were packing up her house after she died. Any old thing you know has been loved on for years.
Weigh it in your hand. Feel its history. Consider its manufacture, the arms and boxes through which it has passed to be with you in this moment. It’s easy to forget how to be grateful when the thing is so trivial. But what you’re holding there is your own personal sacrament.
Eighteen years ago my stepfather Johnny passed away following a lightning-bolt heart attack. For all those days in between then and now I have taken solace in a small pooling of his most useful artifacts: a good camera, a serviceable pocketknife, a modest overnight bag.
That little bag smelled like his after-shave. Eighteen years. It was replaced last Christmas by a happy something with multiple pockets and zippers, but when at last it went (long overdue) into the trash, it felt like a part of me went with it.
Johnny used to walk out into freshly plowed fields after a night of rain and look for arrowheads, and oh the look on his face when he found one. Right into the display case it would go. History’s leavings were some of his greatest treasures.
And it’s like that. The simple thing acquires a secret meaning, becomes another’s prized possession. To anyone else it’s an unfashionable necktie or a cheap sports jacket; to you, it’s the first thing you saw coming through the door everyday and was greeted to shouts of “Daddy! You’re home!” You couldn’t explain it if you wanted to.
Doesn’t matter whether people understand. You know.
Give thanks for it.
The Rev. Torey Lightcap is priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs (www.saint-barnabas.info). Torey and his wife have two children and live in New Castle.
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