Monday, September 25, 2017

ABBOT MATTHEW





A couple of years ago, I was graced to meet Abbot Matthew Stark of coastal Rhode Island's Portsmouth Abbey.

Last spring, the good abbot sent me the best "spiritual reflection" I've read in possibly years. It's an essay called "My Schnorrer is Calling Again." "Schnorrer" is a Yiddish term meaning "a beggar or scrounger; a layabout." And the piece is about that special person in your life who is absolutely, beyond-redemption, flat-out impossible. Who blows apart your very best efforts to be good, kind, helpful, patient, effective. Who is manipulative, double-crossing, passive-aggressive, unfair and inconsistent. .

And who, damn our hearts, we love. And who, in some bizarre way, loves us.

Rev. Steve Schlossberg, rector of St John's Episcopal Church in Troy, New York, is the author. His "schnorrer" is Ruby, who exemplifies Christ's "The poor you will always have with you" and is constantly hitting up the Reverend for, among other things, money. He sums up like this:

"This is who Ruby is to me. She is insufferable and she is proud, she is stubborn as a mule, subtle as a serpent, and she is absolutely impervious to suggestion. When I am being honest with myself, I can see that Ruby's approach to me mirrors my approach to God. When I am being honest with Ruby, I try to get her to see that only does my money do her no good, it perpetuates what does her ill. How many more times must I explain this to her, to no effect? How many more times will I wilt and give her money, to no effect? I do not know. I do not see any way out of this. I am afraid that what Jesus said is true: I am afraid that Ruby will be with me always. And though I am reasonably sure that I will never do her any good, I am persuaded that in some mysterious way she is doing me some good.

A lowly handmaid of the Lord, Ruby is my schnorrer. I remain the Lord's."

The piece so hit home, plus I have another dear friend in the area, that I made a special point of inviting myself to the Abbey on my visit back East in August.

We greeted one another joyfully. Then I coaxed, "Did you have a good summer?"

"No!" the Abbot chuckled.

I cracked up and commiserated, "Are they ever good?"

Then I told him my favorite Thomas Merton quote: "The man of solitude is happy, but he never has a good time."

"Oh that's rich," he said. "I have to write that one down."

We had a lovely lunch with the monks. Then the Abbot , who's been at Portsmouth over 60 years and has had some health problems as of late, showed me the garden and the library. We sat down for a minute in his office.

"So what is it, the getting old? It's a thing, right?"

"Oh yes. It's uncharted territory."

"So what?...How?"

He looked at me.

"Prayer."

I looked at him.

"Yeah.  I thought so."

"Hang on a minute," he said, laboriously made his way to the door, disappeared for a few minutes, and returned with a photocopied sheet. On it was written:

THE LIVING SPIRIT

Prayer, in the sense of union with God, is the most crucifying thing there is. One must do it for God's sake; but one will not get any satisfaction out of it, in the sense of feeling "I am good at prayer," I have an infallible method." That would be disastrous, for what we want to learn is precisely our own weakness, powerlessness, unworthiness. Nor ought one to to expect a "sense of the supernatural"...And one should wish for no prayer, except precisely the prayer that God gives us--probably very distracted and unsatisfactory in every way!

On the other hand, the only way to pray is to pray; and the way to pray well is to pray much. If one has no time for this, then one must pray regularly. But the less one prays, the worse it goes. And if circumstances do not permit even regularity, then one must put up with the fact that when one does try to pray, one can't pray--and our prayer will probably consist of telling this to God...The rule is simply: pray as you can, and do not try to pray as you can't. 

--Abbot John Chapman (1865-1933)



THESE ARE DOGWOOD SHOTS I TOOK
ON THE GROUNDS OF THE ABBEY IN JUNE, 2016.
LEGEND HAS IT THAT THE CROSS WAS MADE OF DOGWOOD LUMBER
(THE TREE WOULD HAVE HAD TO HAVE BEEN MUCH HARDIER BACK THEN).
ONE VERSION OF THE LEGEND CONTINUES: "THE BLOSSOMS ARE IN THE FORM OF A CROSS--TWO SHORT AND TWO LONG...AND IN THE CENTER OF THE OUTER EDGE OF EACH PETAL THERE WILL BE NAIL PRINTS, BROWN WITH RUST AND STAINED WITH RED, AND  IN THE CENTER OF THE FLOWER WILL BE A CROWN OF THORNS."

P.S. Yesterday's mail brought these pix from my visit--I'm not sure who took them but thank you!



WAIT JUST A MINUTE! ARE YOU TELLING ME WE'RE SUPPOSED
TO TRY TO BE KIND  TO PEOPLE?! 

5 comments:

  1. Heather, this one knocked me out. I don't know which was the best part- SCHNORRER, Merton's quote, or the Abbot Chapman on prayer. All pertinent and rich. And the first two bring up a Divine sense of humor. Which is a big relief because we all need some levity during grave times. (Plus beautifully captioned photos!) Much love and thanks.

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  2. I love dogwood and the serene photos of you and the Abbot: thank you! Here's a little treat from St Vincent de Paul on his feast day: "Let us leave it to God and curl up in our shells."

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  3. Aw, thanks Mary Beth and Fr. Pat--this one just came together. After visiting with the Abbot, I remembered and dug out the dogwood photos--which under the circumstances, seemed just right. Let's curl up in our shells indeed!!

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  4. Attempting to catch-up on reading during a holiday break; completely agree with Mary Beth's comment, all pertinent and rich. I will add that the SCHNORRER really hit home with me, I've read it three times over the past three days it's a keeper (and this from a Merton devotee). Thank you, Jerry

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    Replies
    1. My pleasure, Jerry--I'm always surprised anew that things NEVER get neatly tied up...

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