July 9, 2017
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Do you know the hymn based on today’s Gospel? I’m sure there are many settings of it, but the one that I learned growing up is the folksy post-Vatican II-type hymn that really speaks to me. My mom plays hymns like this on her acoustic guitar. Some people are purists for Latin chants, but this is the music that I associate with real, pure faith.
On July 9th, I actually went to Weston Priory, the community that composed this setting. The Benedictine community was celebrating the feast of Saint Benedict, so the mass was full. Aside from a few kids with their parents, my friends (another prospective div school student and her religious studies boyfriend) and I were by far the youngest people at the service.
Weston Priory is nestled in the woods of Weston, Vermont, a town on the edge of the Green Mountain National Forest. I’d driven past it as a child but never visited. Monks? I’d imagined stodgy bald men in long black robes who never smiled and only sang in Latin.
Times have changed, though, and now I’m a weird theology feminist Catholic nerd who absolutely adored the Priory – because it turns out that these monks aren’t exactly the somber grumps I’d imagined. The community is quite radical, actually, and the service actually reminded me of base communities that I’ve visited in Nicaragua, where I almost cried at a service co-led by an elderly woman.
The service is not a traditional mass. The language is switched up, adapted in beautiful ways (like the misa campesina, much of it is sung). Instead of a typical homily, a handful of monks offered reflections, popcorn-style. The Eucharist was perhaps my favorite part: the monks officiated all together, speaking in unison and performing the sacrament as a call and response with the congregation. That felt like real communion. (I’m pretty sure it was open communion, though I’m not positive.) And at the end of the service, the monks danced. It was a gentle dance, as most of them are elderly: they held hands in a circle. They had an acoustic guitar. It just made me happy.
(What made me almost as happy: the bookshop. Feminist theology, ecology, anti-apartheid stuff… I bought The Inclusive New Testament, a translation of the NT, and a book called Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel, which looks super cool.)
I’ve had the hymn (and through it, the day’s Gospel) stuck in my head:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
It makes me happy. Yes, I could talk about how these words can be used to tell people that they must accept their oppression, but I don’t want to – because all I can think about is the hymn and the dancing monks.
Last spring, I was talking to my mentor about my critical engagement with religion, how I’m always wrestling with God and the Church. Most people don’t want this from religion, I said. He agreed right away. I know that many people find comfort in faith. I usually don’t. I often wish I did, but I usually don’t.
But in hymns – hymns like this – for me, there’s an unmitigated glimpse of holiness there. And when I think of the monks dancing and smiling and using feminine language to describe God, I feel comforted. I feel like God is reminding me of all that is beautiful about faith. She’s reminding me that yes, I will find rest for myself – I am not the only one in the world looking for holiness between the lines – and beyond the Church’s walls.