Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace for anything which our nature finds hardly possible. And if we want to escape the pains of hell and attain life everlasting, then, while there is still time, while we are still in the body and are able to fulfill all these things by the light of this life, we must hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity" -Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict
The Irish call some places, "thin places." Thin places are those where the presence of God is so strong you almost feel you can reach out to touch the Creator. Or perhaps, thin places are places where the Creator reaches out to touch us. Throughout my life I have found thin places in churches, in nature, in my home, and of course in the abbey.
Benedict wanted abbeys to be thin places, places where the Kingdom of God touched earth; places where monks and guests dwelt in the nearest thing to the presence of God to be found on earth. Like any human institution abbeys are imperfect. In their imperfection the Kingdom can seen present to a lessor or greater degree. But it always feels present. It always feels like a place where Christ dwells. This adaptation of a story told by M Scott Peck speaks about an abbey where Christ came to fully dwell.
as a result of waves of persecution, and the rise of secularism, all the branch houses were lost.
It had become decimated to the point that there were only five elders, all nuns and monks,
left in the decaying hermitage. The abbot and four others were all over seventy in age. Clearly
it was a dying order.
In the deep woods surrounding the hermitage there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a retreat. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation
the elders had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in her hut.
"The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again," they would whisper to each other.
As he agonized over the imminent death of the order, it occurred to the abbot to visit the hut and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance she could offer any advice that might save the order.
The rabbi welcomed the abbot at her hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. "I know how it is," she exclaimed. "The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things.
The time came when the abbot had to leave.They embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years," the abbot said, "but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?"
"No, I’m sorry," the rabbi responded. "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you
is that you will find the Messiah among you."
When the abbot returned to the hermitage the others gathered around him to ask, "Well,
what did the rabbi say?""She couldn't help," the abbot answered. "We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing she did say, just as I was leaving, it was something cryptic,
was we would find the Messiah among us. I don't know what she meant."
In the following days and weeks and months, the elders pondered this and wondered whether
there was any possible significance to the rabbi's words.We will find the Messiah among us.
Could she possibly have meant one of us here at the hermitage? If that's the case, who is it?
Do you suppose she meant the abbot? Yes, if she meant anyone, she probably meant Father Abbot. He’s been our leader for more than a generation.
On the other hand, she might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas
is holy. Everyone knows Thomas is a man of light.
Certainly she could not have meant Sister Ellen! Ellen gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though she’s a thorn in people's sides, when you look back on it, Ellen is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Sister Ellen.
But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him and saying the right thing. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.
Could the Rabbi have meant that we’d find the Messiah in one of those who come to us for aid?
But they are all so poor and often quite dirty! Surely the messiah would not be found like that!
Yet the scripture does tell us what we do to the least of these is done to our Lord.
Of course the rabbi didn't mean me. She couldn't possibly have meant me. I'm just an ordinary person. Yet supposing she did? Suppose I'm the Messiah. O God, not me.i couldn't be that much for You, could I?
As they contemplated in this manner, the elders began to treat each other,and everyone they met
with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might actually be the Messiah.
And on the off, off chance that each elder might himself or herself be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened people still occasionally came to visit the hermitage to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate and pray.
As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect
that now began to surround the five elders .It seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it.
Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the hermitage more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends
brought their friends.
Then it happened that some of the younger persons who came to visit the hermitage started to talk more and more with the elders. After a while one asked if she could join them. Then another.
So within a few years the hermitage had once again become a thriving order. And, thanks to the rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.”
What would it be like if such thin places came to be in the midst of our congregations? What would happen to ou squabbles, our differences, and our endless debates on doctrine? What would it be like if we lived in our congregations as if each person we met might be Jesus? I don't know the answers to those questions, but think how our world would be changed if the questions were answered in us. Oh, and by the way, the Messiah is among you.