Good Zeal

“If it’ll grow in a ditch…”

Now that my Final Profession ceremony is nearly here, folks are asking me all sorts of unexpected questions. Sr. Kathleen recently asked, “What kind of flowers would you like?” So startled was I that I couldn’t reply right away, but once I gathered my wits the answer came intuitively: flowers that will grow in a ditch. I went straight away to Sr. Kathleen and asked her not to order any roses, no tulips, nothing highly cultivated. Rather, I want wildflowers. I told her, “If it’ll grow in a ditch or on the side of a road, that’s what I want. Daisies, Black-eyed Susan’s…that sort of thing. I want it to look like someone ran their hand across a meadow in bloom and came away with a bouquet of beauty.”

In part, my response was about the sheer beauty of God’s creation without any cultivated interference from us, however well intentioned. But I think more importantly it’s about the ability to recognize and cultivate beauty in the most unlikely and ordinary of places, such as the ditch on the side of the road.

We strive for beautiful liturgy here at the monastery, and there is a place for roses, gladiolas, and the like. But as important as our liturgy is – and St. Benedict says that “nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God” – much of our monastic life is spent doing such ordinary activities as washing dishes, weeding, vacuuming…the “side of the road” stuff of life. This is where the nitty-gritty of monastic life plays out, and we are to bring beauty to all of it, or better yet, recognize the beauty that is already there.

St. Benedict instructs us to “regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected (RB 31).” This, of course, relates to stewardship, with caring well for all that has been entrusted to us. But I see it as also pertaining to a sacramental view of life, of not constricting our vision of God’s glory to the altar, but having the vision of the Psalmist who sees all of creation as filled with the glory of God. St. Benedict, too, recognizes that “the divine presence is everywhere (RB 19).”

Rejoicing with the most humble of flowers is a way to embody Psalm 148 in which all of creation is summoned to praise the Lord. The flowers don’t exist for themselves. They exist to give glory to God.

We, too, were created to praise God, and I want to cultivate praise and thanksgiving in all situations, including in the simple, nitty-gritty tasks of day-to-day life. Whatever the time or place, I want to offer all of myself to God, and bloom like a beautiful flower on the side of the road, “that in all things, God may be glorified.”

“You mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars; You animals wild and tame, you creatures that crawl and fly; You kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all who govern on earth; Young men and women too, old and young alike. Let them all praise the Lord’s name, for his name alone is exalted, majestic above earth and heaven.” Psalm 148: 9-13

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