Thursday, November 14, 2013

One Rung at a Time

I don't know whatever possessed me to think that painting the icon of the "Ladder of Divine Ascent" would be smooth sailing spiritually. It's been a long, hard slog just getting the paint on the board and I find myself stepping (metaphorically)onto and then off the first rung of the ladder. There was a long period this fall when I didn't seem to be making any progress at all, because the icon was in that maddeningly inchoate stage in which everything is half-finished and unformed. It is that stage in the process when the initial clairity and precision of the original drawing has yet to reappear in the painting. At that stage it just looks indistinct, dark and muddy.
I become impatient and discouraged because I want the skip the uncertainty of those intermediate stages. In painting, in my life, how often I am tempted to abandon the divine ladder in the hope that I can jump aboard a divine elevator.
But just as I can't give into discouragement at the slow pace of opening up the icon, I can't allow myself to get discouraged avout being a work in progress in the spiritual life either. God is working to open me up, to fill me with the clarity and beauty of his holiness.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sharpening The Tools

Its been over a month since I last posted a message. For a variety of reasons it was difficult during the month of October to find the recollection necessary to write.
But yesterday afternoon while I was sharpening my woodcut tools, I thought about the way in which the tools of the spiritual life, get dull and need to be honed and sharpened. Some of the carving tools I was sharpening only needed to be honed to cut properly. Others were dull from long years of use, which required sharpening them with a whetstone. But there were a few that were (I'm ashamed to admit) so neglected and rusty that I needed to grind out the damaged sections of the blade and put an entirely new edge on the tool.
So I'm inspecting the condition of what St.Benedict speaks of as the "tools of the spiritual life." In the Latin of the Holy Rule, he employs the word used for iron tools -- shovels, hoes, chisels and knives. Which require constant care to keep them sharp and clean of rust. I think in the spiritual life, keeping the tools clean and begins and ends with the daily practice of charity. That is, I think, the purpose of the spiritual life, to become more and more an instrument of the charity of God, who is Love.
But at the end of the day, just as a tools needs to be cleaned, sharpened and put away, in readiness for the next day's work, there is the need, the necessity, really, for recollection. Without recollection, without solitude, silence, reflection and prayer, at least for me, the tools of the spiritual life get dull and rusty. It is easy for me to somehow see recollection as something to engage in when I have the leisure time for it, when in fact, it is a daily discipline that I neglect at my own peril.