I interviewed a monk recently for a story that will be published in the July/August edition of Post Magazine. The story is about how this particular collection of monks has developed a pretty popular brand of bread, Monks’ Bread, and orchestrates a lucrative, high-tech bakery within the walls of its otherwise solemn monastery.
Curiosity wouldn’t allow me to leave without asking my own questions about religion, faith and practice that would find no home in my 700-word article. I don’t often seek out religious figures. I don’t go to church after 13 years of Catholic schooling. My wife and I didn’t get married in a church or by a priest. It’s something we’re still figuring out, so I had take this chance. We spoke for about 40 minutes, which is an immense amount of time out of a monk’s schedule. And among the things he said that stuck with me was this:
“There’s a line in a poem [‘The Dry Salvages’ by T.S. Eliot] that says, ‘We had the experience, but missed the meaning.’ This is very true, especially in our very frenetic, 21st-century world that all of us have had experiences of grace, but frequently we miss the moment and it doesn’t have a chance to sink in because we’re already on to the next thing. So, we keep looking for new experiences but the experiences we’ve had haven’t had a chance to sink in and be appreciated. If they had, a lot of our questions may have been answered. In monastic life with a slower pace, these kinds of simple, repetitive manual tasks are opportunities to absorb one’s experiences, to digest your experience. All of us, most of us, right now are going around with these half-digested experiences. We need down time to catch up and let things sink in.”
Father Isaac is as thoughtful a man as you’d expect from a monk, but he didn’t say this–or anything for that matter–in any ‘holy-er than thou’ tone. I may not know what I believe in, but I believe what he said. We have experiences every day that happen so fast we fail to feel them. A conversation, a glance, a song, a breeze–so regular are these that we refuse to notice why each is unique. That it can teach us something. That it did teach us something.
Weeks later, I was at work shooting the shit with my friend, Christine. She and I banter quite a bit from one side of the bar to the other (I tend bar every so often). I couldn’t tell you how we got there, but I brought up the concept of flipping the script on a prayer.
“Imagine how happy God would be if you just started a prayer with: ‘Hey, God, how was your day?'”
She paused and I can tell she likely never considered it (how many people have, right?). I continued the banter as I usually do with what felt like humor but now feels like perspective.
“So there I was controlling the weather …,” I say, impersonating God with my hands hovering over an imaginary Earth. We both start laughing because, ya know, how ridiculous is that? A real ‘What if God was one of us?’ type of thought. It was funny. The moment passed and we went about our work, changing the subjects to drink orders, how slow it is, and how much we can’t wait for summer.
That was weeks ago. And I think I finally felt it: the prevailing wonder of what God would sound like if He prayed.
“I need Your help. I can’t do this alone any more. I feel like there is so much pressure on me to make things right, and I don’t know if I have the strength to do it all without You. I mean, I work so hard every day to be all things to all people, and it’s like they don’t even care. It’s like I’m invisible sometimes. Like I don’t exist. I feel like I have all of these great ideas on how to help people, but no one wants to listen.
Are You even listening?
Please, give me a sign. Just show me that you understand how much I care. You can change things so easily if You want to and I don’t understand why You wait for me. What can I do that You can’t?
Help me. I can’t do this without You. Please.
This makes sense to me. Not an omnipotent, omnipresent God, but a helpless God that needs Us as much as We need Him. He’s busy controlling the weather. And gravity. And throwing more coal on the sun. He is limited by Us and Our dependence on Him to carry Us.
But We are the rock that God himself cannot lift.
Not every moment we digest is religious or spiritual, but the content of this one just happened to be that for me. Others will be about being a husband, or a friend, or a writer. Father Isaac’s words won’t always hit me when I need them because he’s not here to speak them again and again. I have to apply them to moments as they pass to make sure I take what I need to take from them. That was his point, and at least this time I was listening.