The sun is shining here this morning at Ashbourne. It wasn’t shining half an hour ago, and it may not be ten minutes from now. But now, it shines. So, stay with the present moment.
Within the hour with my kind hosts, Billy and Pauline, we will set out ultimately for Glenstal Abbey. It is a place with important memories of arrival and settling in during the summer of 2005. It is good to have the opportunity to go there now, to arrive, and to be available to the Lord who is always lovingly at work.
Yesterday afternoon at the monastic ruins we visited, a wonderful chance meeting took place. There was a young couple in the graveyard which has existed for seemingly ever around what is left of the walls of the monastery and its church. They had come over on their bikes and greeted us as we wandered around. A conversation opened, as they leaned on their bikes. They are a newly-married couple, he from Italy and she from Ukraine. They have decided to settle for life together in Ireland. We talked for five or ten minutes and felt as if we knew their hearts, as if we had known them forever.
This seems the fruit of hearts open to one another as we meet through life, whether meetings that will lead to long and deep connections, or seemingly chance meetings that open to depths of meaning in minutes. The four of us stood talking surrounded by the ruins of a monastery – a place of faith and prayer and community that flourished on that same earth 14 centuries ago.
When we will to connect, when we are open to one another in trust, right in the midst of a world that seems to teach us not to trust, surprising gifts pour down from the heavens. Along with Irish rain!
Tonight I am in a lovely room at Glenstal’s guest house. This place, as well as so much that has already happened over the past week and more, bears witness to the availability and the loving power of hospitality freely offered. I am often told – in word and deed – that real hospitality is terribly rare in our time and that what masquerades for it is not to be trusted. I see and feel and experience something quite different. And quite heartening. That is, the abundance of genuine loving welcome offered and accepted between friends and among strangers.
Since arrival here this afternoon, Glenstal’s hospitality has included the invitation to prayer. Both evening prayer and compline have been rich moments of peace, of blessed words emerging from a sacred silence, gently and with purpose.
Psalm 90 always rings true at the closing of the day. And so it did tonight: “Since you cling to me in love, I will free you, protect you for you love my name.”
Hospitality, love, protection. And sleep. From here at 9:35pm, to you at 3:35pm, may the remainder of the day open hospitable doors and loving words to you.
I didn’t know what work my new human did when we first met and he brought me to Brooklyn. We dogs don’t seem to have much say in that kind of thing. And that’s okay with me. Humans have this saying about “working like a dog,” but whenever and wherever that was, it’s different now for most of my kind. I would hate to have to ‘work like a human.’ People look to me like most of them work too much and a lot of them don’t seem to like it too much. They just seem unhappy. I hear them saying that they have to do it to pay something called ‘the bills,’ which I have never seen. But I guess the bills really do exist. I have heard others say they work so that they can eat. That one I cannot understand at all. I have eaten twice a day all my life and I get a lot of cookies most days too. I even like carrots and brocolli and lettis. But I never remember working so that I would have them to eat. Poor humans.
Anyway, my human it turns out works at different places that are called church. I did not know what that was either. My other people went a lot of places, but I don’t think they ever went to places called church. I never heard them mention church. But my new human is there a lot.
After we were in Brooklyn I got to go over to church with him. It only takes about 10 minutes to walk there. It is a fun walk and we go by two churches on the way, so I get to see what churches look like. They are all a little different, but they are more different from people’s houses than they are different from each other.
The walk was fun, but not when we got there. There are a lot of little kids who go to school at this church my human goes to. They are okay, but they are really loud and they move fast and they rush at me and make all kinds of noises. I get so afraid that I feel my eyes get big and I can’t breathe right. I don’t think they want to hurt me, but wow. When they are all together they are . . . I don’t know the word. But I know that you can’t ignore them!
So we go inside the church. Inside it is dark and quiet. I like that a lot, especially with all the little humans on the other side of the door. There are just a few people inside most days. There is a nice lady downstairs who sits at a desk and talks on the phone to other people. There is man upstairs who is the boss. He is interesting and he is nice to me. He has a dog too!
The church is big and has a lot of color and pretty windows. It is a fun place to run. Me and the little humans agree about that. One day a week a bunch of other people come to the church. There is something called music which I don’t understand but they like that and they open their mouths and they all make the same sounds (or almost at least).
Some of the people at church seem very happy. They seem to be kind to each other. But some of the others seem crabby, like everything is wrong and they don’t like anybody. I am not sure why both kinds of people come to church. But I have seen the same kinds of people in all the places where I have gone to work with my human. I can tell the kind of person each one is as soon as I meet them and hear them speak. I keep away from the upset ones. I don’t know the secret of calming them down. My human doesn’t know how either. But sometimes he thinks he does!
The church he worked at in Brooklyn has its name. Churches have names, like people do. That church is called Grace. I like that name a lot. I had a name when I came to my new human. I can’t remember that name now. My new human didn’t like my old name too much. But that did not mean that he didn’t like me. I am glad that I could understand that.
So one day a little while after we lived in Brooklyn, he told me that my new name is Grace. I like that name. And sometimes he says Gracie instead, but it’s about the same thing. So that’s who I am and everybody knows it now. When we see new people, and I am always scared then, he tells them that I’m Grace and they like it too. They call me by my name right away and sometimes, I think, they want to be friends.
For a really shy little thing, Gracie proved early that she can move in a lot of circles. Some circles really make her frightened, like circles of pre-kindergarten Brooklyn residents. She can’t seem to make any sense of what they’re about. (And that’s probably about right). But she can also show up at a fancy dress party (just passing through of course) and attract a lot of positive attention. Again she doesn’t really like or look for the attention, but she is getting accustomed to it.
She has these really deep brown eyes. Everybody says that they look absolutely human. So when people look at her, they stop. Sometimes they don’t speak for a moment. They seem to be figuring something out, like ‘did I know this creature in a prior life?’ But then they welcome her and fuss and coo over her. She doesn’t get a lot less scared, it seems to me. But she is learning all the time.
People ask me sometimes why she doesn’t come generally to services in the church. I have no real answer so I joke and say that she is a Presbyterian. Now mind you, Presbyterians are fine folks by and large and I don’t mean to suggest anything other than that. But the implication is that she might be more comfortable with folks she belongs to in terms of worship. Anyway, it’s only meant to give Gracie an out, until -if ever- it becomes clear she wants to come to worship. But church she is getting used to. She is there more hours each week than the majority of church members. I like having the company. If I am sitting at a desk or table, Grace is under it, always, right at my feet and aware of everyone and everything. She’s kind of like a little guardian angel. I often have thought that if she had human speech it would be fascinating every day, without exception, to hear her take on what happened that day.
Maybe someday we will be able, somehow, to have that conversation.
I really value the first hours of the day – the gradual transition from darkness to light, the increasing sounds of the town waking up and beginning to move, the opportunity to take initial nourishment both in the form of a little breakfast and a time of quiet prayer and meditation before diving into the fray.
As everyone who has written on interior prayer/meditation whom I have read have noted, I find the ‘fray’ mentioned above is going on in my mind even as the day gently opens up around me. It continues to astound me as I sit quietly that my mind, only just returned to post-sleep consciousness, bounces merrily (or un-) from one memory, concern, worry, point of uncertainty to another. As John Main OSB and others who have taught on centering prayer over the past generation have noted, the best response is simply to stay there, to keep praying, to (using Main’s phrase), “say your word.”
I can fairly enough say that the best evidence of my faithfulness to all this is actually bodily. I sit down and stay in one place for the period of prayer.
How much life does it take to bring the beauties and wonders of heart and of mind into consonance with one another? I have come to believe that I will be entirely at rest only about a half hour post my eventual taking leave of the world!