Friday, October 07, 2011

Bernard of Clairvaux

Many years ago, I met C. Michael Curtis, who was and is the fiction editor of the Atlantic Monthly.  He was a kind man, an Atticus Finch kind of person.  He was intimately familiar with all the fictional currents of that time.  He was also an avid reader of theology.  He asked me what I thought had happened to the theological scene, in that the great giants who loomed over the landscape of the previous decades were gone, and no one replaced them.  He was a reader of Lonergan, Barthe, Bultmann and Rahner.  I cannot remember my reply to him. A question of that scope took me by surprise, not to mention his deep knowledge of and obvious hunger for God.
Today we remember with gratitude a giant from the early days of our Order.  We still live in the shadow of Bernard.
Each age brings forth its own giants who stand tall on the horizon of religious thought and activity and influence many succeeding generations.  Bernard of Clairvaux was one such figure.   They seem to inherit a right place and a right time.  They rise with the winds of change, transformation and need and are gifted enough to fit the bill.  Bernard was a gifted writer, orator, leader and aristocrat.  He was at the forefront of the main cross currents of his day. 
Such people seem to arise when the need calls for them.  The spirit inspires them and moves them forward and we follow, and benefit from their gifts, their labors.  The genius of Bernard was the ability to blend God and life in prose.  His words wedded heaven to the things of this earth.  His legacy lives and towers above and around us in this magnificent church.  When the monks labored to build it, they were doing the very work of God here in Conyers.  As the walls rose, and the windows let in the light with their beauty, God found a home made by the Cistercian monks who reflected the wisdom of Bernard.

Here are some of his quotes.

You will find something far greater in the woods than you will find in books. Stones and trees will teach you that which you will never learn from masters

It is a misery to be born, a pain to live, a trouble to die. (Reads a bit like Bob Dylan.)

He who prays and labours lifts his heart to God with his hands.

Who loves me will love my dog also.

Bernard left something good for almost everybody – the poet, the artist, the balladeer, the seeker of God, no matter if sought in books or the woods.  He wrote for those in the pews (if they had them way back then), those in the cloister, and those on the streets.   

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