The other day, I walked through the monastery dining room with a garden hoe propped against my shoulder. I passed another Sister who smiled at the incongruity. “Looks like there’s a story,” she said as we crossed paths. “There’s always a story,” was my smiling reply. And indeed, there is always a story.
In recent days, historical narratives from 1st Samuel have served as our Old Testament reading during Lauds. Each morning, a portion of a chapter is read, with the continuous narrative rhythm broken only for Sunday’s and Feasts. As the reader, I picked up the narrative yesterday morning where I had left off the previous day. The passage I read was dense with detail and replete with references to characters and events from previous days. As often happens on the weekends, a retreat group had joined us for Lauds. As I read, I imagined how difficult it must be for the retreatants to follow and understand the complex narrative, lacking the context of the previous readings. But for the rest of us, the gradual unfolding of a continuous narrative gave us the benefit of context, making a complex reading more readily absorbed.
Sometimes, as with yesterday’s reading, the narratives around us, including that of our own life, seem to lack context, or don’t easily make sense. We have experiences and encounters for which we don’t always understand the framework. The characters may be unfamiliar, or the references obscure. Everything seems incongruous, like a Sister walking through a monastery dining room with a hoe propped against her shoulder. We just can’t make sense of it.
The seasons and cycles of the liturgical year help give us perspective when our own personal narrative seems fractured or incongruous. The liturgical cycle draws us deeply into the life of Christ, not as mere spectators, observers or listeners, but as participants.
We encounter Christ in Word and Sacrament, and in times and seasons. We can see the seasons of our own life in light of the seasons of the life of Christ. In our own times of watchful waiting, we recognize Advent and trust in the coming of our Savior. In our own times of desolation, we recognize the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and know that He is with us in our pain. In our own times of resurrection, we see the abundance of God’s salvific love and power.
As Christians, when we experience life in incongruous fragments – like that of a single chapter isolated from the whole, or like the inexplicable presence of a garden hoe in a dining room – we know there is a deeper unity which our human vision does not allow us to see, but that can be perceived with the eyes of faith. Through faith we know that what may appear to be disconnected fragments are part of a larger story, just as we understand the resurrection in light of the crucifixion, and the Incarnation in light of the Eternal Word.
While singing the opening hymn during Vespers last night, I happened to look up from the hymnal just as we came to the phrase, “You are the way.” My eyes happened to land on one of the Stations of the Cross. That particular Station was part of Jesus’ way, but was not the whole way. It was one episode of a larger narrative. And because it was His way, it is part of my way – my story – as well.
Indeed, there is always a story. Let us be grateful for the seasons and cycles of the liturgical year that unfold for us the narrative of God’s love. And through the liturgical unfolding of the mystery of our faith, let us be drawn ever more deeply into the life of Christ. Let us see the fragments – the episodes, chapters, and verses – of the individual lives we are living now, in light of the life of Christ, and in the light of eternity.