The Cooper River Sings to Me
Monastic Guest Program Participant (Nov 26 to Dec 6, 2018)
By grace, the brothers of Mepkin offer me hospitality yet again this past November.
Brother John picked me up at Charleston Airport. As he zips from main road to side road, he regales me with tales of recent programs, potential candidates and how the brethren are faring. With a little prodding, he told me that the book “Brother John” by August Turak was on sale at the bookstore and that I should take a look at the marvelous illustrations. And wonderful they were. As was the brief book that focused on John’s “purpose driven life”.
Mepkin Abbey helps me to breathe deeply. To be quiet…more or less. To appreciate the rhythm of orare et labore, prayer and work. I was assigned to the “Shroom Room” where I trimmed and helped pack what seemed like a million shiitake and oyster mushrooms under the benevolent supervision of Father Columba.
The brothers pray The Liturgy of The Hours seven times a day beginning with Vigils at 3:30 in the night and ending with Compline at 7:35 in the evening. I am transfixed by the chant and dischant of the Psalms. The brothers, guests and retreatants sing as one in holy communion. If someone falls out of sync, he or she struggles to become one again with all. I read each line written some three thousand years ago. I see the scribe pouring his heart out to God. Praising, complaining and petitioning. I resonate with the writer’s agony or ecstasy which easily translates from the ancient desert to our 21st century high tech world. The words sadden and gladden. Lift up and throw down. Bring tears and quiet chuckles. For me, very powerful.
The Creche Festival has drawn thousands of pilgrims to Mepkin for 18 years. Scores of Nativity scenes from artists around the world. So different, yet so familiar. This year, I was particularly drawn to a triptych called “How can I keep from Singing” by Neil di Theresa. The painting depicts the Epiphany with the Holy Family, wise men, shepherds and hangers-on played by men and women, young and not so, different races, and colors in modern and traditional dress. Various animals. Even the heavens. Totally inclusive. Touching. I kept looking and looking, drinking in the pilgrims, human and non-human. Seekers, one and all. Precious.
Another deeply moving event. The Anointing of the Sick (formerly Extreme Unction). First time I‘ve seen it at Mepkin. Father Joe and the entire congregation anointed several brothers. As the long line of ministers moved from head to head, blessing the brothers, some teared up. So did some of the anointers. Softened the hearts of many. Made open to receive the graces of the Moment. Will be long remembered by this soul.
I visited my long-time friend the Cooper River. She herself is a prayer as she flows down from Lake Moultrie to the sea. On one of my visits, the tide was cresting, water from shore to shore. In my mind’s eye, I saw deep into her watery womb, teeming with life. All stages of life from birth to death, and, who knows, perhaps resurrection. Many become food for others on the ladder of
life. The Cooper feeds many on her surface as well. Some folks fish to put food on their family’s table. Others to re-create their souls. Aquatic birds eat side by side with their human brothers and sisters. At this juncture, the water is brackish, fresh water from the lake and salt water from the Atlantic providing a nourishing environment for the hungry and the pregnant inhabitants of the deep.
On the days I visited, the temps were in the 30s with wind chills in the low 20s. Bracing! But wonderful. The Cooper kept rolling along. Happy in her work. I could hear her singing.
My ten-day sojourn went quickly. Father Jonas surprised me with gift packaged dried shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Very thoughtful. Father Guerric drew the short straw and was asked to drive me back to the airport. He too zigged and zagged, but on different roads than Brother John. When he noticed I was trying to understand the route, he suggested I let go and enjoy the ride. Great advice in the Moment and great advice for living a joyful life. But he paid a price for his wisdom. My tongue burst into speech …for the remainder of the drive! I still wonder if he “listened with the ear of his heart”?
I am truly blessed. May each and all have a Happy Christmas and a Wonder-Filled New Year
Jim Leahy the Grateful
December 12, 2018