All, my life, from the time I was 12 and learned that I wanted to, and had a calling to, enter a vocation as clergy, I have been searching for the kind of community I read about in Acts that day at summer camp in the forests of Quebec’s northern coast on the Gaspe peninsula. I wanted to be a part of a movement of love. I have searched for that kind of community and found it in many of the places I looked but in few of the ones in which I expected to find it.
I have lived in a Russian monastery with monks who had spent 65 years tending to an outlawed faith in a thirteenth century building; and I have lived with other monks in a Castle on an island off the coast of France whose longing for a new church groaned in the stones. I have lived with Nuns in Florence, Buddhist monks in Chiang Mai and Orthodox monks in New York. I have lived with monks who brought new meaning to the term “all sorts and conditions of men” in our prayerbook. Some were as holy and good as a human could be; and then there were the others. The outcome of money and power and their effects on the body and soul are inevitable.
And I have lived alone in the forests of New Hampshire, which seemed like it could encourage goodness and did – but was lonely and isolating. Even there I found that what scripture promises is true.
And now I live near and work with a team of clergy, the likes of which I could never have imagined being my good fortune. Yesterday we drove to a meeting together and laughed the whole way there and the whole way back; we laughed so hard it was, at times, difficult to inhale. They are brilliant, self-offering, other-centered, good, kind and effective – which is rare in the spiritual rubble of today’s Christian church.
When I look at this section of the wood-carved front of the cathedral’s high altar, I see a Jesus who is serene. He seems to be in touch with God. To my mind He seems to be downloading something – the way my computer is sometimes when it is too busy to function at my touch. Jesus is looking off just past my left shoulder to a God who is communicating love and hard things at the same time.
Were I the carver of Jesus’ face at the last supper, what expression would I have given him? This one precisely. Jesus looks to me like One who longs for a new Way. Around him his disciples are both concerned (to his right) and attentive to the next action in the story (to his left) but Jesus is neither in the past, nor in the future – neither in nostalgia nor fantasy. Jesus, in this carving, is in this present moment with God.
Last night at an ecclesial gathering, we were asked what we thought of when we saw the words “the church.” I wanted to shout out “Jesus” but felt it was un-anglican, so it stayed stuck in my gut where instead of lighting into fire it merely smoldered. I coughed. The Word was never shouted.
The spiritual depth which allows for this kind of gaze which I see in Jesus’ face is a beautiful thing and I love that the artist of this frontal piece was able to imagine it and carve it into Jesus’ face. This longing and hope for the church as the arms and legs of Jesus in the world today is our way. To follow that Way will take the courage we know comes from this kind of serenity. And that kind of courage only comes from the courage we download; and then loan to each other along the Way.
And the laughter helps too.