Good Zeal

Stopping in our tracks

You know how sometimes a work of art, or a beautiful view, or maybe a sublime piece of music will grab your attention and cause you to just stop in your tracks? Whatever it is, you stop, you stay, you stick with it. You return again and again to the painting, or the poem, or the favorite vista. If it’s a piece of music, you listen to it (or play it) over and over, perhaps for years. Whatever it is, there is both depth and beauty, and one encounter is never enough.

In the last post, I wrote about pausing to look beyond our usual perspectives to encounter the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. Yet we also need to pause and focus and enter into the depth of the matter, not just the breadth. I’ve been reading a book by an art historian who spent months returning, sometimes daily, to the same two paintings, as he came to realize that images don’t revel themselves all at once. There is always more to be seen.

For us monastics, God has “grabbed our attention,” you could say. Through sustained, repeated encounters in personal prayer, liturgy and scripture we come to know God with growing depth and intimacy. For us, prayer is not the time to scan the horizon (although scanning a beautiful horizon may lead to prayer). Prayer is a time to stop in our tracks and turn yet again to the “one thing necessary,” to turn to God who gradually reveals Himself to us over a lifetime of steadfast seeking and deepening relationship. The monastic rhythm of prayer, work, and leisure helps us to stop in our tracks, to stay, to stick with it, to return again and again.

Yes, it’s vital to pause and scan the horizon and encounter the beauty (and also the suffering) of this world. But we also need to pause and focus with single-minded devotion, to encounter God in a sustained way in the depths of our heart. I think of it like this – pausing to look around can lead to wonder (awe), while pausing to ‘enter in’ can lead to wisdom. Both are essential dimensions of our search for God.

“Happy are those who…delight in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1)

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