Saturday, October 11, 2008


Not long ago, we had a wonderful evening here at the monastery. We shared a meal with a gathering of long-time friends of our monastic community. Our Abbot, Francis Michael, wanted to express his gratitude to those who came, to thank them for their love and support. He spoke warmly about how much the community values their friendship and presence. I sat at a table and listened to Francis Michael as he spoke and looked about at the people at the other tables. I was asked to take pictures, and I got up a few times, taking some pictures. They came out well – I think I captured as best I could the kind and receptive expressions on the faces of those who listened to him. After one such stroll around the room, I returned to my place and noticed a strange light to my right and when I looked that way, I noticed a slight opening in a large curtain. Through the opening I saw the light – it was a brilliant blend of oranges and reds, purples and golds of the setting sun. I quietly excused myself and went outside to the cloister area and that was when I saw it. A gorgeous rainbow arched across the sky, seeming to begin or end in our lake area and stretching with an endless beauty toward our abbey church steeple. I took a few pictures and then headed back inside and returned to my place. Our night prayers were to begin in just a few minutes, and I knew I would go to them with a sense of gratitude for the evening. I also felt an excitement for having been able to photograph a rainbow.
It is a safe bet that every person who has ever lived has been enthralled by rainbows. The rainbow enjoys a prominent place in folklore, mythology, in religious texts. It is a rainbow that God sends to let Noah know that the deluge was over and that his wandering on the flooded earth would come to an end. It is a rainbow that some have followed, hoping to find at its end a pot of gold. It is a rainbow that arches over the Emerald City when Dorothy sees it for the first time after a long journey in the classic tale “The Wizard of Oz.” Perhaps a common theme beneath such variations is that despite all the turmoil of life and amidst all its sorrow, something beautiful comes and we look up and take the hope that it offers – that God is leading us all somewhere. And every now and then he sends a sign. And so it is that we take heart in whatever comes that may promise something good. We gladly follow a yellow brick road, or the sight of land, or look real carefully for that pot of gold.
Rainbows are high and elusive. There is a song about the seeking of lasting good in this life being like chasing rainbows. Rainbows recede as we move toward them. And they do not last very long. They exist through a prism like crystallization of moisture and sun, or rain and light. When the sun shines through the rain, a rainbow appears.
We often look to brighten the rain of our lives through whatever light we can bring to those darker times, but we are not too adept at creating our own rainbows. We do not have that kind of artistry.
The Incarnation is the Word made flesh, the belief that something of God not only shown through a man but in fact lived through him. People all over the world have looked heavenward since the beginning of time for a sign of divine life or activity. The rainbow is one of many such portents or omens of God’s presence and artistry. The Incarnation brings the artistry of God very close to earth. A light shone among us, and it still shines. It shines in a special yet ordinary way.
I was happy when I walked back to the table that night, with my camera and the picture of the rainbow. I showed it to Jim, our business manager, and he smiled and said “All we need to find now is that pot of gold.” I looked about the room at the small gathering of those who were still absorbing the words of gratitude from Francis Michael. I saw smiles and expectancy on their faces, a thankfulness for his words and, presumably, for being a part of our monastic life.
I looked again at the small opening in the curtain but it was dark and the light was gone. And I am sure that the rainbow was no longer there, high in the sky. But I looked about at what remains of God’s presence in this world, right here in our monastery, in the lives of those in the room that night and in every person who comes to this place.
Later that night, it started to rain. I came up here to this third floor room where I am now, where I write. There was a lot of water on the floor and when I looked up at the ceiling, I saw the leak and the dripping of water. I called Augustine right away – he is familiar with the trouble spots in our many walls and ceilings, and he came up right away. He said it could be easily repaired. I asked him where the water came from since I knew that above this ceiling is an open space and he smiled and said, “You never know with the rain. It has its own way of moving through any crack it can find.”
And you never really know with God. The Incarnation is like a tiny opening through which God came to us, through the Yes of a young woman whose very body carried the Light of the world. And when we extinguished that Light through our own blindness, the Light became even more, and became a living part of Everyone. And it shines and shines, through what we know to be of love and hope and goodness. God finds a way to seep through the openings in our hearts. It cannot be fixed or stopped or rerouted. In time, the whole world will shine with Eternal Light. It will be like a rainbow coming to the ground, laying down a path for a path for everyone, the gold of God’s love within easy rich, his Light dancing at their feet.

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