Modest, dutiful servant girl seems perhaps to have caught the eye of the master of the house. Love and relationship between upstairs and down are as far from the confines of reality as they can be. She must not even indulge the hope that he might someday take a valid interest in her; wishing isn’t forbidden, but it is dangerous and foolish and inadvisable. She thinks perhaps he has noticed her, but she will not risk her life and livelihood to find out. She cannot afford to flirt, and he cannot afford to love.
That’s the televised version. Here in Cor Unum, we are the chosen handmaidens of One who is absolute Master and Majesty. Neither in literature nor in all history is there any chasm as deep or as wide as that which ought to separate us from His glory. Aristocrat? He is Autocrat of the universe! This is not a breadth between us paved with our sins and misdeeds only. This is Eternal God and creature, but here we must catch our breath … that which separates humans most utterly from the Lord our King is that He will love us, and we will not be loved.
Not so in this Abbey. The message that rings up and down our halls is this: we love Him, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
It is no accident that the best love stories reflect a disparity between the lovers. Humans are shaped for a love that we cannot earn or understand or deserve or return. So monastics fit themselves into it, and there we do this one thing: we determine to enjoy it all the days of our lives. To be sure, that enjoyment will culminate in a far greater understanding and return of love than we could at first dream possible, but in this Abbey, we start right way up, and we do what is fitting for those with weak and faltering steps. We make them sure by making them in one direction, toward and in pursuit of our Lord, small steps so that we will not often falter, and above all, as Jude said, we learn to keep ourselves in that love.
You might say that we have determined to have nun other love before Him.
The many small disciplines of monastic life are the handrails of which we have spoken. They are there because we must stay on the path toward His likeness, and that means there must be a displacement. The things we love better than our Lord will have to be set aside. From this trail we seek never to turn aside. We know that we are still fingering the beads of clay we bought at the fair … but His ring is on our finger.
There are so many things along the way that set our flesh on edge, and it howls like wolves hiding just out of sight. The little obediences of love, the thousand good choices love demands week in and week out, every opportunity seized that denies even our seemingly innocent pleasures for the sake of God With Us.
Were this a path through deep waters, our monastic disciplines would hold the wheel while our old habits and young lusts foment. We want to be here, we want the life of Christ, but the waves of our own other wants are ever about to turn our ship off the course we ourselves have set. Staying the course will accomplish what all manner of wishing will not. We are beyond wishing here, for the Master does love us; He has brought us into His chamber, and His banner over us is love.
The problem is ever the abiding (John 15:9), and thus those handrails, but under that banner we will be found, delighting in His company, and we will learn to return love, even this love, for He has purposed that we may, if we will.