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Things to Think
Think in ways you’ve never
If the phone rings, think
of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything
you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred
lines of Yeats.
Think that someone may
bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and
deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake,
and he’s carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom
you’ve never seen.
When someone knocks on the
Think that he’s about
To give you something
large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary
to work all the time,
Or that it’s been decided
that if you lie down no one will die.
—Robert Bly, Morning Poems
Dearest monks and artists,
Last week I was walking down the road in Galway to find the office of an osteopath with whom I had a first appointment. The house number was 45, but after I passed 42 the numbers jumped up to 50 and continued up from there. So I stopped and asked a woman getting out of her car if she knew. “Oh, don’t go by the numbers, darling” she said in her lovely Irish accent.
And then she proceeded to give me directions to where I needed to go (another block away as it turned out).
I laughed to myself at her comment. Here in Ireland, not only do they drive on the opposite side of the road from what I am accustomed to, but all of the light switches in our apartment work in the reverse of my expectations as well (needing to be flipped up to turn off). Fries are called chips, and chips are called crisps. Most roads don’t have street signs, and the numbers
don’t always go in order.
This is at the heart of why I embarked on this pilgrimage – to throw off my usual expectations of how the world works, so that I might see new paths forward. Traveling in new cultures forces us to see things differently, so that even the smallest of exchanges carry new meaning. As Robert Bly wisely reminds us, “think in ways you’ve never thought before.” As I see my outer world so attached to things being a certain way, I can begin to see this at work in my inner world as well.
“Don’t go by the numbers” I think characterizes my personal journey pretty well. I went to graduate school to earn a PhD and start a career in academia, but after a few years of teaching in a university setting, decided my heart was being called to a much riskier path of self-employment, which meant creating something entirely new. I can assure you that “online
Abbess” was not on the list of potential job prospects while I was studying. Or this decision my husband and I made last spring to sell our lovely home and belongings in Seattle and start over in foreign lands. We could have rented out our condo and put everything in storage, but something was calling us to start anew, and to really reflect on what we wanted to carry
forward with us. Even leaving Vienna to move to Ireland was far more of an intuitive choice than a logical one.
So when this woman uttered those words to me that morning, they felt at once both very familiar, and also like an invitation to something deeper, to pay attention to the ways I still cling to following the numbers of life.
It also helped me to name an inner movement that has been happening within my heart. You see, I have some new visions being birthed, and I am eager to sing them out to the world. And yet, there is something holding me back. It isn’t fear or judgment or anything like that. In fact, the holding back feels ever more wise and gentle. And then when I heard those words to me and received the poem above on the same morning, I felt like the invitation was to do things differently than I have before. I am comfortable with sharing my visions and then asking who wants to join me. I am blessed to have such a large community of fellow monks and artists who often want to travel the path with me. I often step out into the world without having things fully formed, trusting that they will come together in the naming and gathering.
My sense right now, however, is that it is time to gather up resources and honor how much energy these transitions and moves have taken. To allow some time to really begin to send down roots in this new city of ours. Springtime is arriving in so many ways – longer days stretching open the possibilities for play, more sunshine glittering across Galway Bay, my husband receiving his needed immigration stamp to continue to live and work in Ireland
long-term, meeting so many delightful souls here.
One of my visions has to do with creating a new monastic order for the Abbey, honoring the community that has already formed here, and giving new ways to name how we gather together. It has to do with cultivating a sense of contemplative embodiment, of inviting my fellow monks into the last unexplored wilderness, which is the body, as site of profound wisdom for us and the world. And I am hearing this whispered call to dwell on the wild edges
myself for a while longer, to deepen into the undoing of my expectations of things, to surrender a little further before sharing this with the world.
This is the heart of conversion in the Benedictine tradition. As a monk in the world, I am called to remember that I am always on a journey, I have never “arrived.” And I am called to continue to be open to the surprises of God and open myself to “messages larger than anything I have heard before.”
And so I offer this with you, dear monks and artists, to ask if you have ways you have been following the numbers too closely? Is there a new way of thinking that might move you to a different way of being in the world? What would it be like to trust that? To have all of your previous expectations unsettled, shifted, blown away, so that underneath you might discover a deeper guiding wisdom? Let me know what you discover.
May you think and live in new ways,
With great and growing love. . .