Dear Friends in Christ,
During my retreat in July at Emery House, which is run by the monks of SSJE, the religious order to which our bishop belongs, I took two afternoon walks in the neighboring Maudslay State Park, which comprises 450 acres overlooking the Merrimack River as it runs through Newburyport. What captivated me most was not the magnificent view of the river from the high bluff, but the dilapidated buildings that remain of the early 20th century estate of Frederick Strong Moseley.
The main house itself is gone with only the barest brick outline remaining. As I walked inside this space it was easy to imagine the front steps and the great fireplace. But was the grand staircase just here or over there? I felt a sadness for this lost estate and the people who are no longer. It reminded me of seeing the one story house I grew up in sitting on a flatbed truck ready to be moved to somewhere in the mountains of north Georgia.
Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now and The New Earth, was walking through an abandoned estate in Hawaii and saw a sign that read: “Caution: All structures are unstable.” This struck him as a sutra, a holy scripture, pointing to the fact that every structure, from mountains to molecules, is on its way out of existence. We remember this fact on Ash Wednesday when we receive ashes on our foreheads and hear the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
After Evening Prayer with the monks I realized I was missing something crucial. Every structure emerges out of something and is held in existence by that something, until such time as it returns from whence it came.
We are trained to see words on a page, but not the white space in which they sit, without which the words would be invisible. The super moon this past week was visible only because of the vastness of space. We glory at the moon and ignore the powerful no-thing-ness that holds it.
And then there is the central tenant of our faith: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became an unstable structure and dwelt among us.”
The One who holds everything enters existence as a Jew named Jesus of Nazareth. I used to imagine the incarnation as only affecting Jesus himself, until I remembered what all gardeners know: you can’t fully describe a garden without mentioning the dirt, fencing, fertilizer, animals, rain, and temperature. And you can’t fully describe those things without mentioning earth, sea, stars, and all the way out to the edges of the universe and back to the Big Bang. And let’s not forget the effort of the gardener who is also supported by millions of others through their labor creating the fence, the fertilizer, and the economic system that delivers them to her.
When the Word becomes an unstable structure all creation is touched and infected with the dynamism of God.
This truth doesn’t remove the sadness I feel around abandoned buildings, but it does remind me to look with my faith and not just my feelings.
Paul wrote: “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” As we face our fragile existence we can also “be still and know” the happy truth that in Christ nothing is ever lost, except the smallness of our vision.