Monday, December 07, 2015
The waning light, the monks processing in for Sunday Mass, their chant heard long before I can see their outlines in the cloister, long before they flow into the church on a river of incense have made this a time of enclosure. Even outside, the horizon seems very close, and everywhere, God, a deeply hidden mystery.
A version of this column appeared at CatholicPhilly.com on 7 December 2015.
Truly with you God is hidden, the God of Israel, the savior! Isaiah 45:15
The door was not easy to find. Look next to the elevator, says the note in my room. There, in 24-point font, discreetly grey against the pale wall, it says “Abbey Church.” I push open the door and peer into the warm darkness. The lights flick on and I enter. Huge gleaming white pipes are braced to the walls — “Low Press Steam” and “Ret Cold Water” — while bundles of wires snake across a tray set on the floor, trailing off into the darkness, connecting the guesthouse to the abbey proper like an umbilical cord.
I follow the tunnel, turning left, then right, trusting that the lights will turn on when I need them, and surprised at the end of a long series of doors to find myself on a staircase that leads without barrier into the back of the church.
I rummage through the binders on the shelf in the choir stall, hunting for the setting of the canticle listed on the board. A monk appears over my shoulder, and quickly flips to the correct page — 10, as it turns out, is in the back, hidden behind a tab labeled “Canticles.” “Do you need a marker?” he asks. I slide a crumpled note from my pocket to hold the spot. Grinning, he taps the books I’ve arranged, “one, two, three” and returns to his spot behind me.
Incense rises in front of the altar, iridescent white against the night-dark walls, winding around the cross suspended in midair over the altar, shrouding the monks arrayed across from me.
The tabernacle in the chapel is close enough to touch, the flame burning in the doorway reveals its contents, while the matte planes of its surface obscure the infinite Beauty confined within. Deus absconditus. Deus revelatus. God hidden and God revealed.
It’s Advent, where we remember God hidden, shrouded within Mary all those months, and yearn for God revealed, for the child given to us two millennia ago, for the Christ risen in glory we await now. A living God, breathing in and out, at each moment both emptying himself and filling all the universe. God hidden. God revealed.
I walk through these dim Advent days, yearning to know that God is here among us, yielding to God unseen. I search for the subtle signs that He is just around the next corner, concealed in my day-to-day encounters. God hidden. God revealed. Emmanuel, God with us.