Robert Macfarlane writes, “Ynys Enlli [meaning Island of the Currents] was among the many remote places of the west and north-west coast of Britain and Ireland to be settled between around AD 500 and 1000. Monks, anchorites, solitaires and other devout itinerants began to travel in their thousands to the bays, forests, promontories, mountain-tops and islands of the Atlantic littoral. In frail craft and with little experience of seamanship, they sailed out across the dangerous seas, in search of something we might now call wildness. Where they stopped, they built monasteries, cells and oratorios, dug cemeteries for their dead and raised stone crosses to their God. These travelers were know as peregrini: the name derives from the Latin peregrinus and carries the idea of wandering over a distance, giving us our word pilgrim.

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]
It is clear that these edgelands reciprocated the serenity and the asceticism of the peregrini. Their travels to these wild places reflected their longing to achieve correspondence between belief and place, between inner and outer landscapes. We can surmise that the monks moved outward because they wished to leave behind inhabited land, land in which every feature was named. Almost all Celtic place-names are commemorative: the bardic schools, as late as the seventeenth century, taught the history of places through their names, so that the landscape became a theatre of memory, continually reminding its inhabitants of attachment and belonging. To migrate away from the named places (territories whose topography was continuous with memory and community) to the coasts (the unmapped islands, the anonymous forests) was to reach land that did not bear the marks of occupation. It was to act out a movement from history to eternity….
There [on Ynys Enlli], with the ocean extending away from them, and nothing on the horizon to abbreviate or delay the eye, the monks were free to consider infinitude.” — from “The Wild Places”

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The desert is the threshold to the meeting ground of God and man. It is the scene of the exodus. You do not settle there, you pass through. One then ventures on to these tracks because one is driven by the Spirit towards the Promised Land. But it is only promised to those who are able to chew sand for forty years without doubting their invitation to the feast in the end. — Alessandro Pronzato

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Photo Credit: Drriss & Marrionn Flickr via Compfight cc[/featured-image]

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Any new beginning in one’s life involves a dissatisfaction with the past and a call to something new. It can be as unsettling as exciting. The Desert Christians learned that wilderness had a way of abruptly putting them in their place. It awakened them to a mystery that had no regard for their self-importance, yet welcomed them with an astounding love. Their entry into a life shaped by the desert required a stout readiness to commit, a weathering of disappointment, and a birth of irresistible desire.”

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“Part of the grandeur of wilderness is that it cares so little about the things that absorb us so much. We find glorious, disarming indifference in its grand vistas and hidden niches.  It shares its gifts with a prodigal extravagance, even as it ignores our imagined self importance. … Accepting what is—for what it is—is the place to start.” — From Backpacking with the Saints, Belden Lane

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To imagine that you know, to populate the unknown with projections, is very different from knowing that you don’t, and the old maps depict both states of mind, the Shangri-las and terra incognitas, the unknown northwest coast and the imagined island of California (whose west coast was nevertheless drawn in with some accurate details and names). When someone doesn’t show up, the people who wait sometimes tell stories about what might have happened and come to half believe the desertion, the abduction, the accident.”

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“Worry is a way to pretend you have knowledge or control over what you don’t—and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown. Perhaps fantasy is what you fill up maps with rather than saying that they too contain the unknown.” — Rebbeca Solnit from A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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Poet and frequent artist-in-residence Kathleen Norris loves coming in to teach students at parochial schools.  She reads them the Psalms, although, she writes, they “are usually not aware that the snippets they sing at Mass are among the greatest poems in the world.” But when she asks them to pen their own poetry, they begin to let loose. They know what it’s like to feel emotion, to experience the world on their terms, to feel sadness and joy, and, for those who’ve been picked on by older siblings, anger. She shows them how all this is fair game in the psalter, a minefield of depth when it comes to emotions. The writers of those poems knew that this was a place for them to express themselves authentically and truthfully before God.

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Norris explains one interaction in this way.  “Once a little boy wrote a poem called ‘The Monster Who Was Sorry.’  He began by admitting that he hates it when his father yells at him: his response in the poem is to throw his sister down the stairs, and then to wreck his room, and finally to wreck the whole town. The poem concludes: ‘Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, “I shouldn’t have done all that.”’”  Norris, astounded at his words, declares that the boy has “more honesty than most adults could have mustered.”  The metaphor of the messy house describes the feeling of rage perfectly, as do his words in the aftermath when his anger subsides. “I shouldn’t have done all that.” (From Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, pg. 4ff)

[callout]A sermon based on Psalm 130.[/callout]

Our Psalm this morning runs in a similar vein to “The Monster Who Was Sorry.”  In the Latin its title is de profundis, taken from the opening words “out of the depths.”  Immediately we get sense of the profundity of it all, the intensity of the depth the writer feels himself in.  “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord hear my voice, let your ear consider the voice of my supplication.” The psalmist sits way down in the pits and recognizes that only God can help.  The poem continues, “If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand.”  If you were to mark down every time we messed up, who wouldn’t be found guilty? 

Continue reading The Sorry Monster and Other Psalms

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Put your sword back! These are the last words—a definitive rebuke—the disciples hear from Jesus before they run away. If ever there was a moment in God’s eyes when violence would be justifiable, this is it! But Jesus is clear: Put your sword back! His followers are not allowed to respond with violence. They are not allowed to kill. They are not allowed to harm others. They are not allowed to ‘deter’ violent crime with the use of violence.

Why? Because all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Violence begets violence. Killing begets killing. Nukes beget more nukes. Death begets death. Jesus, the incarnation of the God of nonviolence, stands for life. He will not succumb to the way of violence. Although he knows that he will perish under the cross’s violence, he places his hope in the God of Life and awaits that third day.” — John Dear, from Bread and Wine: Reading for Lent and Easter

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“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain-passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.”  — John Muir from The Mountains of California


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