Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In Which The Thing With Feathers Is Detected




We were wandering around Oregon, the four of us: The Quiet Husband, The Lovely Daughter, The Best Friend Who Also Goes to College There, and Gannet. The Best Friend said that there was supposed to be a Benedictine monastery nearby, one with a Thomas Merton collection she would like to investigate for her senior thesis on his early poetry.

"I'm up for a visit to a monastery," I said.

And so we went, east through the countryside and up a winding hillside road, to Mount Angel Abbey. I'm linking to the page with aerial photos, which are the only way of truly doing justice to what we discovered. If you poke around, you will also find images of the spectacular library.

If you were to explore the Abbey, you would be forgiven for thinking that you had landed in The Sound of Music, or in the original Benedict's Italy, as you gazed down at the surrounding fields and pastures and at Mount Hood in the distance. The quiet grounds seem to go on forever, the mustard brick buildings arranged around a spacious grassy quadrangle are meticulously cared for, and the interior of the chapel is magnificent. As I wandered alone through the chapel, with sunlight filtering across pale violet and green walls, a monk settled in to practice on the organ and music filled the space.

Icons hang at wide intervals along the walls of the chapel. I started at one end, planning to make the rounds of the walls as if I were in an art museum, as an interested observer with nothing more than a desire for a few moments of distraction.

I had not been able to pray for weeks. You look at the icon and the icon looks at you, my professor and spiritual director had often said, offering without fanfare wisdom from the ancient church gleaned from decades of experience across Christian culture. I had written his words down in a notebook, repeated them to my students when I taught high school world history, and given them little thought otherwise. You look at the icon and the icon looks at you. I found the one that looked at me. Or, perhaps, it found me.

Anyone who has grieved long and hard has known the feeling that you cannot let go of the sorrow, not without a sense of betrayal of both the one who is gone and of yourself. The transformation of that kind of torment is a lifelong task, and it begins with the most tentative of steps. Perhaps sometimes that beginning is realized only in unfamiliar places, and through unexpected gifts.

I know very little about icons, but I've learned a little about Christ Pantocrator, and this version in particular (which I eventually discovered was written by one of the monks, Brother Claude Lane), since returning home. I am told that although the icon is usually referred to in English as Christ the Ruler or Christ the Teacher, Sustainer is also a valid translation of Pantocrator. I am quite sure that Christ the Sustainer is the one who has been looking for me.

12 comments:

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

So glad you were up for a visit to this wonderful place...and on your discovery.

On a side note: The Printery House is one of my favorite places to browse...ok and to buy.

Quotidian Grace said...

What a beautiful reflection, GG. And the place is equally beautiful. I'm so glad you had the chance to visit it.

Mrs. M said...

I'm so glad you have both cultures, the whole (holy) "c"atholic church to draw from. It's precious to me, too.

You remain in my prayers.

Cynthia said...

A beautiful entry that warmed my heart.

Sarah S-D said...

oh, thanks be to God. what a gift... to have found yourself there and to be found there.

Ellyn said...

I'm glad he found you.
Prayers offered.

Magdalene6127 said...

Thank you. Thank God.

Stratoz said...

found the library, most marvelous.

Rev SS said...

Thanking God for this experience for you.

Purechristianithink said...

Mount Angel is truly unique and wonderful--a thin place maybe even.

Deb said...

(o)
<3
Deb

ROBERTA said...

Here i live in the NW and i have never been to this monastery! I'm feeling the lure of this holy place just through your photos and writing - thank you. This i know to be true - God permeates....

p.s. your word verification today is an actual word! wow :)