As I sit here smelling the sweet Nazareth incense from Holy Cross Monastery, my thoughts are on St. Benedict and his Rule. I’ve written about this mighty saint before, but as we are in Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, I find his counsel most appreciated.
Great Lent is a time of increased fasting, prayer and almsgiving, a lean season that balances on the hope of springtime, renewal, and celebration in our Risen Saviour. I do not just want to go through the motions of Lent, I wish to experience Christ, to know the Pascal mystery in a real and intimate way. And through my efforts I am reminded daily of my weaknesses. I eat too much. I ponder too much and waste time too much. I yearn for discipline and yet, on a whim, will snag a second...or fourth Oreo. And these are just the petty things.
A much larger weak spot is my fear of flying. I joke about myself that I pray more on airplanes than any other time in life, but in truth, it’s a real fear that I have to deal with from time to time and it’s BIG, UGLY and RELENTLESS.
St. Benedict says to “keep death daily before your eyes” (4.47) which I find an easy course when embarking on a plane, but he also says “Look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (49.7) How may I have joy while also contemplating my mortality?
The Christian life is filled with such seemingly contradictory maxims: “ You must lose your life to find it” “Through death, death was destroyed” “By Christ, we are made strong through our weakness” and “Rejoice through suffering, being thankful for our trials”. My quest in reading St. Benedict’s Rule is learning how to live in contradiction, how to be a peaceful pilgrim in this noisy world.
As I face my fear of flying, I realize that I’m led to a place of great vulnerability. A place I would altogether avoid if circumstances were different. I am awake, attentive to my mortality and roused from a comfortable slumber. I realize how much I desire the mighty wings of God and how illusory is my control in life.
“The promise of the Kingdom is not that we shall escape the hard things, but that we shall be given grace to face them, to enter into them, and to come through them. The promise is not that we shall not be afraid. It is that we need not fear fear.” - Esther de Waal, Living With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality
In hindsight, what a blessing to confront this weakness head-on for this is exactly where Christ meets us. As I continually prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” my thoughts changed from an irrational torrent to a calm river of hope. Through my vulnerability, living waters flowed ...how can I not embrace these occasions of spiritual growth?