I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Pat Butler’s reflection on entitled Abba Ice.
“Out of whose womb came the ice?”—Job 38:29
A monastery forms in this plane of all places, over New Jersey, as I fly north in the dead of a Northeast winter, in the grip of an historic deep freeze. I am returning home from a short trip South, contemplating the icy lunar landscape below, pocked by crows, bridges, and ice-encased riggings. I’m startled to discover how much I’ve missed this purgatory, how eager I am to return to it.
A monastic silence fills the fuselage. In this carrier cum library, laptops, iPads, and Kindles are out. Movement is restricted: we swipe our scroll screens. Our Rule of Life is simple: eat, sleep, read, watch media. Our cloister walk is to the toilets, where we wait in line, listen to the engines’ drone, the flight crew’s chatter, or peer out the window at cloud formations.
Traveling alone in a community of strangers, I study the news: a near drowning; two boys stranded on a rock in a river; a truck driving across the frozen bay.
Now we are over New York. The harbor is frozen; occasionally an ice floe breaks off, revealing darker patches of blue. I travel in this trinity of bay, clouds and ice, a triune community of water. Abba Ice slips around the mouth of the harbor, and visits me in my cell—Seat 20C.
“I like this winter,” he comments. “It has personality.”
I have missed discussing this winter with him. When I arrive home, I drive to the bay, to check the ice and resume our conversation: how do I live as a monk in this frozen world?
My spiritual practice expands to include this daily pilgrimage to the bay, to see if it will freeze entirely, and to hear how he might answer my question.
One small patch of blue remains open, big enough for a skiff, in which three fishermen huddle, working their lines. How did they even get there? Whatever trail they forged through the ice, the sub-zero cold has erased it.
How long will the cold last? Will it succeed in closing that blue patch? I want to see the bay freeze over, something I’ve only witnessed twice.
Will we see it, Abba Ice?
Are you prepared for the winter it takes to do so?
Abba Ice inches across the bay, into the sound, coves, rivers, salt marshes and kettle ponds along the coast, into our minds and hearts, which thaw incrementally as he freezes the waters, testing us.
What is in your heart?
The ice crawls past Center Island, pulling pilings down. We are weight-lifting with snow blowers, shovels, and battery chargers. The cold becomes the hub around which our lives revolve. If weather can be said to transcend itself, this is that weather. Temps hover near or below zero for months, teaching me what extremes the climate must take to freeze a bay.
A Coast Guard cutter cuts a channel through the ice, emptying the tongue-tied silence of the cold. Its goal: a half-submerged dingy, its engine tilted up to the sun, rakish and blue. Two fisherman are missing: gas can, cooler, buckets, and clamming rake recuperated by the cutter, half a mile from Peacock Point.
This winter lays us waste, and takes lives.
Abba Ice speaks again: Wait. There is more.
A wandering snowflake announces the arrival of the next blizzard. A frenzy of food shopping erupts, before the hunkering down in spite of accidents, the cat missing, and the conundrum of management not closing the office when the state closes the roads. Thankful for heat holding up, toilet paper holding out, sufficient water and food, internet raving on.
Black silhouettes at attention.
Shivering in the beautiful danger we stand in, eyes running, lips chattering, we stare at the sun transcribing its message on the ice. Abba Ice summons us to look as long as it takes to see; for some intuition, some spiritual download or upgrade to complete. Hoping it will do so while the coat is still keeping me warm.
I mark the sun’s herculean effort to set slowly enough to match our dimmed wits; watch its controlled descent, with power to incinerate the naked trees, the bare bay, and us—none of which it does. Instead, it restores us to our senses. Power made perfect in beauty.
Watch. Wait. Look.
Chronos becomes Kairos. Abba Ice lays down a path of pearls bought at great price—ice formations illuminated by a winter sun that knows how to take its time.
Do you know how to take your time?
We scramble back to our cars, photos secured, turn on the heat and our music. Vespers includes the Hallelujah chorus, arias coaxing frozen tides to remember how to hold a note, how to have a wooden leg for the inebriation of sunset. Melted by beauty and silence, our red-nosed faces stun-drunk, we witness a theophany the soprano’s voice salutes.
And then it is finished. The sun sets. The bay is completely frozen.
This is the Hope of Ice.
I take notes…
Where everything can be transformed, so can I.
If the sun can move that slowly, so can I.
If that’s what it takes, I’ll endure it.
In a winter where we can no longer walk on water, the water turns to ice.
Pat Butler, poet and writer, has three chapbooks published through Finishing Line Press, and poems in literary and online journals. A native New Yorker, Pat currently resides in Florida, where she enjoys being a recent first-time home buyer, all things French, and anything in, near, or on the ocean.
Website: The Literary Boatyard