When He Stands at the Door and Knocks

“The way we answer doors is the way we deal with the world.” Sr. Joan Chittister

During my formation over the past two years to become a spiritual director, Fr. Albert Haase, the noted Franciscan author, spent a weekend at Cedar Brake with our group.  We had begun doing practicums on the art of spiritual direction, working with staged scripts, and it wasn’t going well.

The process was frustrating; either there was no emotional connection to the fictitious issue, or too much.  If it was the latter, the hapless student was sometimes blindsided by a flood of emotions he or she was prepared for.  But more often it was just clunky.

Fr. Haase and our director, Beverly, decided to ask for volunteers with real situations from among the students that we were willing to bring to him.  My hand shot into the air like an anxious 7th grader.  ; I’d been pestering Beverly all weekend to see if she and I could meet to discuss an issue weighing on my soul.

Two chairs were arranged in front of our group of about 30 students and directors.  Fr. Haase greeted me warmly. We both sat down and he prayed. Before he even finished his prayer, our audience faded from my awareness; only he and I remained.

I explained that I was long married.  My husband and I had converted some 20 years before, and we were both committed to the faith and drawn to Benedictine spirituality and hoped—even at our advanced age—to become oblates of the order.

My struggle had to do with my habit of rising at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. to focus on prayer and study.  My husband usually gets up later, showers, and is ready to take on the day right off the bat. I had noticed some weeks before that, as he cheerfully entered the room in the morning, ready for a cup of coffee and a chat, my response to his presence was, well, less than welcoming.

I had started to feel as though St. Benedict were poking me with a sharp stick.  

Oh, irony!  I study and admire The Rule of St. Benedict!  By now I’d long known that Benedictine spirituality is all about welcoming, and could no longer ignore the fact that I was irritated when the person I love most in the world walked into the room.

I began to cry.

Fr. Haase asked gently, “According to Benedict, who is that coming into your presence as you sit there with your books and candles and journals?”

“Christ himself,” I gulped, mopping my face with tissues.

“Just so.  We never turn from the Christ standing before us, even when occupied praying to Christ himself,” Fr. Haase said.  “That makes no sense.”

We were done.  The room was hushed as we stood, embraced, and I returned rather awkwardly to my seat.

I served last fall as the spiritual companion for a women’s ACTS retreat and shared this experience one week with the team.  Later, several spoke with me about how my experience resonated with them, convicted them, too.

I was reminded of it myself this morning as I studied the entry of the Rule today on the importance of the role of the porter in the monastery, who receives guests and needs to do so in a manner befitting the reception of Christ himself.

“As soon as anyone knocks…, the porter will reply, ‘Thanks be to God’ …the, with all the gentleness that comes from the reverence of God, provide a prompt answer with the warmth of love.”

 

Citations from The Rule of Benedict: Insights Through the Ages, Chittister, Sr. Joan, Crossroad, New York, 1992.

 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash