Rain mesmerises. Rain on a dark November evening pecking at my face, battering my hood. I duck and flinch, as if that might lessen the impact. It doesn’t of course. Rain on the seafront sets me thinking about all sorts of things. Photographs are on my mind for some reason.
I’m quite vain about photos in that I tend not to like myself in them. But there is one that I like, sent to me a couple of months ago and it has me standing at the door of the church here looking outward towards the street, waiting for a wedding.
It’s a happy picture and it reminds me of two dreams I had as a young priest in Tanzania. In the first I stand at the door of my soul looking out, searching for the face of Jesus, listening for the sound of His voice; in the second I stand at the door of my soul looking inward to the light, the light of Jesus.
A few years later I read a book by a Cistercian monk who was instructing Novices. In it he said that each one is called to stand guard at the door of his soul, and he is responsible for what he allows into his soul. Of everything that approaches our life we must ask, “are you for me or against me?” and only those things that are for us should be allowed in.
We are entrusted with the protection of our own homes – we lock our doors at night to keep intruders out; we never leave our house empty without locking it and in times of storm we keep doors and windows shut. The soul is our spiritual house, and we are entrusted with its protection, keeping all enemies at bay. And it’s better not to let the enemy enter in the first place because once he gets in it’s harder to get him out. “The enemy is more easily overcome if he be not suffered to enter the door of our hearts but be resisted without the gate at his first knock.” (Thomas à Kempis)
The gospel for the first Sunday of Advent speaks about protection when Jesus says that “if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house.” Break through the wall! A very strong image.
It is a good thing to focus on for Advent in our preparation for Christmas – to not let anyone or anything break through the wall of our soul, the tender wall of soul that encompasses our entire being. There are people, experiences, situations that seek to break into our lives in a way that is damaging. And St. Paul speaks of some of the sins that we ought to keep out – “no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jealousy comes to mind for me, envy of those whom I perceive to be more than I am. There are plenty of other sins that each of us can identify as being harmful to our wellbeing now in this world and harmful to our eternal salvation.
Let our armour be the Lord Jesus Christ! Let our protection be daily prayer, charity, mercy, forgiveness, and good deeds. The opening prayer, the Collect of the Mass asks God to grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at His coming.” Running forth to meet the One we love and desire.
There is an abundance of good and beauty that also approaches the house of our soul and it is essential to be open to and welcome what is good, life-giving, those things that lead us closer to God and enhance our relationships with each other. All that is good, noble, pure – peace, love, and joy. These are things that usually approach and enter into us gracefully like a summer breeze/ There are summer days when the sun shines and we open up doors and windows of our homes to let the summer in. So, with our soul.
Back to the rain on the seafront. Deserted seafront, releasing what is deserted in me. Thoughts and feelings that are comfortably restrained, kept in check – now, almost unbeknownst to me, begin to stir like skittish horses, taking on a pace of their own. I had thought never to revisit this again.
The thought of loss. My failure that somehow led to that loss. The feeling that goes with it. And the shock of how it happened still startles. I try to keep such loss away from my soul, even when it gets in I try pushing it out. But it is not for leaving and I come to recognize that what appears to be negative and damaging sometimes must be allowed its place in our soul.
Loss is a good teacher – teaching detachment and wisdom among other things. The key is not to allow resentment to become the permanent bedfellow of loss. Resentment must be sent away, leaving space for new life, the new life of Christ to have its rightful place. Loss scoops out a hollow for Christ in the soul and that too is the work of Advent. Letting it be done.
This is Advent. I wait. Come Lord Jesus take complete possession of this soul, this life that You have created; come bless all those I love so joyfully and so painfully. Come! Come to all the souls that you have entrusted to my care that they may be well, safe, and saved. Come to the ache and the craving of this complex and beautiful humanity. Make your Home anew in us. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus.