Last night I had dinner with one of my favorite people. His name is Father Francis and he is a Benedictine priest and lives at St. Andrews Abbey in Valyermo. He was visiting some friends here in Laguna, and Patty and I were able to enjoy a beautiful meal with a man that is becoming a dear friend.
Afterwards Patty mentioned the deep sense of peace she felt with him. It came out in the way he spoke. It was a sense of calm underlying his responses, even when the subjects were points of tension or concern. There was such a lack of defensiveness, even when handling delicate or controversial matters of faith. And when responding to potential areas of confusion or doubt, his response was almost whimsical. There was a lightness to him. A playfulness. A deep sense of joy.
We talked about the Benedictines…how they deeply value community, counsel, and respect for all persons. They live each day in the practice of hospitality. Often Benedictines stand at the door to the sanctuary and greet each person entering with the phrase, “Thank God you’ve come.”
Francis has lived at Valyermo for over 40 years. He came when he was 19 and he’ll one day be buried in the cemetery at the top of their hill. I love that spot. It is one of the most quiet places on earth. It is sacred ground. Walking amongst the gravestones you feel the stability of the ones who have remained, who have grown deep roots.
True peace takes years and years to cultivate. Edwin Friedman refers to it as non-anxious presence. And the prerequisite for it is self-differentiation, or in simpler terms, knowing oneself. Who you are. Who you aren’t.
Whenever I travel to the abbey (which is often, but not often enough) I am usually wrestling with one or the other. Who am I? Who am I not? Two sides of the same coin. What is my identity? My identity in Christ? What is my true vocation? My true self? Where am I hiding? What are my facades?
Self-discovery is powerful and meaningful, and often humbling. It makes us vulnerable. It exposes our hearts. My deepest longing is to be able to receive the love of God in that place of vulnerability, without pretense or self-protection. I have a long way to go.
But there has been a consistent voice for the last several years when I stay at the Abbey. I’ll be eating breakfast in silence. Quiet and still. Slowly waking up. Preparing for the day ahead. And I’ll hear the voice behind me whisper, “I know you.”
And I turn around, and there’s Father Francis. Full of such grace and peace. A heart warm, like a fire. Non-anxious presence. I can’t help but want to draw close. To warm my own heart.
That phrase gets me every time. It touches a deep longing. My heart leaps. There is such tenderness in the words. When he says it, I hear the whisper of God’s voice. And my own heart opens just a little bit more. To be known is so powerful. It is such a vulnerable gift.
Living in that place takes faith. I experience this peace only for brief moments. But slowly it is starting to stick. I’m beginning to speak more honestly. To stand a bit straighter. To release worry and self-criticism. To allow myself to just be who God made me to be. That is true self-differentiation.
Francis visited our prayer room yesterday. What a joy to have him here. We’re going to have him speak soon at our church, and I’ll be sure to let you all know ahead of time. As I walked up the stairs to greet him, I was so encouraged to see so many in our church already enjoying the warmth and peace he brings.
As I entered and gave him an embrace he held me tight and whispered, “I know you.”
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.”