When we cleared every last molecule out of Ottilia Hall a couple of years ago to prepare it for renovation we thought we had completed the Move of all Moves. The building had been continuously occupied for over a hundred years so there was over a hundred years of accumulated hopes and conversations and prayers and plans and – well, more to the point – stuff. Lots of stuff. And we cleared out every single thing. We had one mega yard sale, then an auction, then another mega yard sale, and then give-aways and throw-aways and hide-aways and tuck-aways and, well, eventually the place got emptied.
But the emptying of Ottilia seems like a piece of cake compared to what we are doing now – emptying the basement that lies underneath our old kitchen and dining room. Everything in Joseph Hall’s ancient understory is also getting the heave ho, along with some other areas soon to be demolished.
In comparison to Ottilia, where the things that we saved or sold had actually been used in the light of day, some of the stuff we are now encountering seems to have been hidden since the foundation of the world…furniture so large that the building must have been built around it because there is no possible way to get it out, cabinets that surely must have been custom built for some specific purpose – because who would have ever thought of this?
There is nothing subtle or delicate or refined down here. It is all work-horse practicality and rough-hewn sturdiness. There are ancient rock walls and prehistoric pipes and bricked-in basement windows and all manner of oddities. A pantry cupboard was recently pulled away from the wall and behind it was a long-forgotten door. There are places in which the wall radiators are, for some perplexing reason, attached to the ceiling. There is a hospital stretcher that is used as a work table in the shop. A set of scaffolding serves as Kitty B’s dining table and cat food cupboard. Oh, and the bikes draped in old bed sheets. It may all sound very odd, but these are spaces that we who live here know so well that we can mostly walk through them with our eyes closed.
There is a strange beauty in the mis-matched tiles and dangling bulbs, in the thin-veined conduits that run like mazes around the walls and ceilings, and in the hulking cast iron pipes that grow like tree-trunks from the rough cellar floor. These are the hidden things that have powered our life above, a kind of architectural parable, a story in stone that reveals something of our search for God through a hundred years of daily life in monastic community. It is also a kind of metaphor for the inner mysteries that lie hidden within us, powering our choices and actions, our thoughts and conversations, our dreams, our prayers.
When we think of prayer, we perhaps imagine ascending to an upper room, or rising like incense into the ethereal heights of a soaring a cathedral, or floating our petitions and praise upward – cloudlike – toward heaven.
Yet perhaps the best prayer, the most honest prayer, happens in the work-horse spaces of our hearts when we ask God to walk silently with us into the hidden recesses and darkened crevices and ghost-like memories and mis-matched oddities of our souls, uncovering both sheltered beauty and hidden pain and, yes, mercy that courses unceasingly and unceasingly through maze-like interior byways that know no end because there is no end to God’s mercy.
Prayer can be hard work…the work-horse faithfulness of simply showing up day after day to dwell in God‘s presence, and returning again and again to His Word.
Eventually it takes root so deeply that it’s as if our lives are built around it, like an entire building constructed around a single essential furnishing.
Eventually our eyes are so open to the mysteries of God – hidden since the foundation of the world – that we can walk in faith even in darkness.
Eventually the wisdom of God courses through the cave of our hearts, powering our choices and actions, our thoughts and conversations, our dreams, our prayers.
Eventaully our life becomes a parable, a story that reveals the mysteries of God’s love.
“I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.” Mt. 13: 35
Postscript: Our hard work will find it’s culmination in our next (and last!) mega yard sale to be held November 23. Here’s the basic info, and here are some of the items that have been long hidden, and many not so hidden.
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