This coming week we will have our Visitation with Abbot Joseph of Snowmass. What preparation do we need, individually and as a community, to receive God’s gift, a gift given through the Spirit? Like Mary’s Annunciation, like Mary’s Visitation with Elizabeth, the Spirit hovers over our lives ready, with our cooperation, to gift us with the love and the life that so filled Jesus. Our cooperation involves our ‘yes’, the ‘yes’ that lets the Spirit lead and guide us, that lets the Spirit soften our hardened hearts, and make them more spacious for God to dwell.
A Visitation is about life: it is about opening the heart of a community to expand and deepen in becoming more Christ-like in its relations with one another, in its service, in incarnating the love by which we are loved, the love that is stronger than death, the love which breaks down animosity and ill will changing it into mercy. The Mass always begins with a ‘penitential rite’…have we ever reflected on why this is so? It asks that the heart of the gathered community be broken open by mercy in order to receive the Gift of God in Jesus.
A community is made up of individuals, so each sister, not just a few, has a responsibility for building up the community life. The Statute On the Regular Visitationsays: “The sisters will make every effort to see the Visitation as a call to personal and communal conversion” (#3). Why is there this emphasis on ‘conversion’ in the Statute on the Regular Visitation? Every community is incomplete, in need of healing, of change. No community has its life all together. This body of Christ that we form in this little ecclesia of Redwoods Monastery connects us to the larger body of our Order and the Church. It is a living organism and as such is always in need of improvement, of change, of re-committing ourselves to the work of God in this place at this time. The conversion process makes the heart ready, ready to listen, ready to re-commit, ready to live our ‘yes’ not counting the cost. Conversion is about putting God at the center, walking as Jesus walked. It is key to purifying the intention of our hearts, which always are in need of further transformation.
Our Visitation is happening just after the Ascension and before Pentecost. These two great feasts of the Church can be the spiritual impetus for what change we are called to right now at Redwoods. There is no ‘ascent’ without a ‘descent’…and this paradox bids us forward as we follow Jesus. To quote Br. Christophe from his journal, Born From the Gaze of God: “The deep water is the Relationship to you. The abyss of my misery is saved. The deep water where everything is grace draws me toward a mysterious elevation” (p.103). Our inner lives…going into these deep waters…deep enough until his hand reaches out and says ‘do not be afraid’…and the grace flows and there is the sense of our lives being raised into the heart of God. We descend by ‘letting go’, stretching our arms wide open as Jesus did in his total commitment to doing the will of God, so that God can work in and through our lives.
I said that we form a body of Christ connected to the larger body of Christ of our Order and of the Church…We form a body of his love and mercy…we form a body ready to lay down our lives in order for this love to expand and deepen.
To quote again Br. Christophe: “More ‘difficulties of relationship.’ This evening I read Jean Vanier (Toute personne est une histoire sacrée [‘Every Person Is a Sacred History’]): ‘In order to truly find full communion with God [and with the others], I know that one must descend to the bottom of the abyss in order to ascend even more alive” (p.181). Building up the body of Christ: How do we build up this body in love? Christophe offers us an answer…he is having difficulties in a relationship…he remembers that each person’s life is a sacred story…no matter their wounds…no matter the difficulty he may be having with that person…Then touched by the words of Jean Vanier he knows what his inner work is to find full communion with God and his brothers: it is to descend into the abyss where conversion happens, where the voice of Jesus will be heard…‘Do not be afraid’…and he comes forth, he rises more alive…more available to serve, to build up his community with the love that Jesus is and bestows on him and his community. Every one is equipped with a certain measure of ‘faith’…just enough to do God’s work…everyone in this community is needed…everyone, for building up this community…for helping its growth into the height, depth, and width of God’s love.
This coming Visitation is an opportunity to help us renew, inside and out, for this building up of our lives together as we open ourselves ‘wider than wide’ to the Spirit that hovers over our lives.