This fall Paraclete will publish The Last Monk of Tibhirine
– the story of Jean-Pierre Schumacher, now the only surviving monk from Our Lady of Atlas
monastery where seven monks were abducted and killed by Algerian terrorists in 1996.
I just finished reading the manuscript copy and what struck me the most was the humble commitment that led these monks to remain in Algeria and simply be present with their neighbors in a time of unchecked violence in their country. Their goal had never been to convert their Muslim neighbors – but to simply show Christ’s love and live alongside them. I have been thinking a lot about a portion of the last testament written by Prior Christian just before the abduction, where he says that he saw himself as an accomplice of evil in the world. He depicts it as “sitting down at the table of the sinners.” As it is described “all of us deserve part of the blame for everything that goes wrong in the family of mankind, and it is our duty to change this and to heal. If we neglect doing this, if we do not take action and carry out the task that we have been given, then we are jointly responsible for the result.”
I am so struck by the humility of these thoughts. I so often get angry about this or that, and it take me quite a while to discover what I need to take responsibility for in a situation. These monks were quietly going about their business, believing themselves to be doing the will of God, but at the same time meditating on the evil in all human hearts and its contribution to the violence around us. They felt that their task, as an antidote to violence in their country was simply to remain. Even after the death of seven out of nine members of their monastery, the two remaining monks at the time continued on and reopened their monastery in Morocco with a few others, with the hope to return to Algeria in the future.
Actions speak louder than words in a way that is profound.
A grape vineyard grows right outside the window of our sales room, which gives a lovely view in the summer, when all the leaves are full and then in the autumn when they turn shades of red, gold and brown.Right now in the cold and damp spring season the vines are cut back to the graft. The irrigation tubes and the aluminum posts that keep the rows straight are exposed, as well as peach colored plastic shelters giving protection to vulnerable new vine plants.
Last Saturday, I helped with placing these shelters around the new plants. One of the brothers in our Community who cares for the vineyard explained that these shelters provide a ‘micro-environment’ for growth for these new plants while they are in a vulnerable stage – protecting them from the elements or small animals.
Because of things that God is showing me in my life, I was reminded that even when things are closing in around me, or I feel that my world is narrowed for a time, perhaps God is protecting me, or giving an opportunity for focus upon growth and new life.
Several weeks ago, I was helping one of our older sisters who has Alzheimer’s dress for the day.
As I changed her slippers and socks I was struck with the profound privilege it is to care for the needs of another person. Often when I care for her I have to slow down my spirit and turn my attention away from myself — so, on this day, I knew that this insight came from the Holy Spirit.
I shared this with a friend who has several home care jobs, and she agreed that there is something sacred about meeting the simple needs of another human who is dependent upon you.
This is something that I’ll be meditating on as I go to the Maundy Thursday service and foot-washing at our church tonight. We’ll join with Pope Francis and Christians the world over serving one another in this symbolic act that reflects the charity that Christ calls us to.
September: it’s the time of year for new beginnings, new starts and fresh vision! At Paraclete our sales year runs from September through August, so we are listening and praying about new ideas as we begin again. I always find starting over difficult, especially after the completion of a long project or pushing towards a goal. I’d like to take a break, but God always seems to have another plan, a new horizon to keep our creative juices flowing, and to keep us at the edge of what we can do in our own strength, and drawing us towards him! A portion of our grape vineyard grows right outside of our window – this time of year the color of the grapes deepens each day – a reminder of the circle of new life and harvest.