After a tornado passed through our monastery property last April, we labored for days and weeks clearing tornado debris from the central areas of the monastery property. We found wooden planks, plywood, shingles, metal siding, gutters, and all kinds of household odds and ends that had been swept into the sky and tossed willy-nilly across the landscape.
Within a few weeks of the tornado, the grounds around the monastery were in good shape, but we deferred clearing the heavily wooded areas and the high grasses of our back pasture until wintertime brought better visibility in the woods and a decreased chance of snake encounters in the high grass.
Well, wintertime has come, and yesterday morning, after Mass, I put on boots and work gloves and headed out to the pasture. The debris – difficult to see within the thick hay even last spring – is now even harder to find since it has had some months to burrow deeper into the pasture.
It was painstaking work. I walked slowly through the high grass, back and forth in a methodical pattern, scanning the ground carefully with my eyes. I tapped the earth with a hoe as I walked, listening for the tell-tale sound of metal against wood or shingle. I paid attention to the texture of the land beneath my boots, alert to the shape of a buried plank or board beneath my thick soles. Back and forth I went throughout the morning until it was time to break for noon prayer and lunch. After lunch, I resumed my slow, careful walk through hay that in places was as tall as I am.
As the day went on, I got better at finding burrowed shingles, boards, sheets of decking, and other odds and ends. I learned certain patterns of swirled grass or lingering moisture that were likely to yield a small bit of plywood or a buried shingle or two. Through experience and close attention, I became attuned to fine distinctions. I learned to find what I was seeking. I learned to discern.
I took my time. I went slowly. But the keys were patient attention and steady focus. These led me to that which I sought. Despite the disheartening immensity of the field and the thickness of the hay which, though beautiful, obscured my vision, I paid attention, and was rewarded by seeing the occasional glint of the corner of a shingle, or feeling through the thick soles of my boots the right angles of a board hidden in the grass.
Likewise in our spiritual lives, our interior landscape can become cluttered. In order to discern the voice of God we need to rid ourselves of interior ‘debris’ so that we can listen for God in a clear and open space. This, too, can mean painstaking, patient, and prayerful labor as we open our hearts to the breath of the Holy Spirit, the call of Christ, and the mercy of God. It means yielding to God that which lies burrowed in our soul – perhaps some ‘debris’ of sin and pain, but perhaps hidden treasure, too. And as we hold in our hands all that we find and give it to God, we know that we are held in God’s hand, ourselves a stray treasure lost in a pasture for whom the Good Shepherd has searched, and now found.