Once again I have been blessed by my work. Even in these challenging times of pandemic, I am fortunate to have sufficient editing and writing work to keep me busy. This past week, I had the opportunity to proofread the transcript of a series of talks by Cynthia Bourgeault, which are part of an online course being offered by the Center for Action and Contemplation. (Unfortunately, the course is already closed, but another of her courses will be starting in August; you can learn more here.)
One of the stories that I read in Cynthia’s transcript is available online, and I want to reflect on it today. She wrote it back in 2016, about a spiritual experience she had on the day before the US presidential election that November. In one sense, her experience echoes my reflections on that election, but she received her wisdom before the election occurred.
Cynthia’s experience occurred in the ruins of Tintern Abbey, a Cistercian monastery in Wales that Wordsworth made famous with a poem entitled “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” (The photo above is an oldie, from when I visited Tintern in the early 1990s.) She found herself in the ruins of the abbey church as the sun was setting, compelled to kneel where hundreds of monks had knelt in prayer over the centuries. In those moments, she was somehow connected with them, and with that larger frame of God’s reference that sees beyond our human catastrophes.
Kneeling, and then lying prostrate where monks were killed by King Henry VIII when he dissolved the monasteries to seize their wealth, Cynthia “knew beyond any doubt what the election results would be, and where the wheel set in motion the following day would most likely lead.” Yet, the walls of the monastery seemed to speak to her: “Do not look upon us as a destroyed monastery, but as a living transmission. Know that what is forged in the alchemy of love is beyond the ravages of time.”
Reading these words in the midst of the current pandemic is painful, but also important. Thousands of monks died five hundred years ago because of the hubris of one man (and his sycophants) who believed he could do whatever he wanted. Thousands are dying in America today because of the hubris of one man (and his sycophants) who believes he can do whatever he wants. The parallels are crystal clear to me. When I wrote my own blog post, three and a half years ago, I could never have imagined the level of destruction that would be wrought by one man (and his sycophants). I doubt that the Cistercian monks could have imagined their slaughter, either.
The good news is not about us as individuals. It’s about the endurance and ultimate perseverance of love. An abbey which once was a slaughterhouse has become a treasured national symbol of faith and of the eventual triumph of love. We don’t yet know what the treasured symbols will be that rise out of this pandemic. We likely won’t get to know; that will be left for our great-grandchildren to discover. Instead, we must trust in that alchemy of love. We must do our part to spread love and live out of love to the best of our abilities.
Then we must trust in God, to work that alchemy: to combine our faint efforts with those of others, around us and around the world. Then, somehow, in ways we cannot possibly imagine, we will build an abbey, perhaps even a cathedral, to love: a spiritual edifice that will withstand the ravages of time.
How will you contribute to God’s alchemy of love today?