Christ Apart and Christ in the Midst

Since I retired from parish ministry and began pursuing Upward Call as my fulltime ministry I have experienced an interesting change.

For 16 years I met with men and women almost exclusively at St. Columba Church and Retreat House. Nestled in the rural setting of West Marin, it provided a quiet environment into which I could invite people to explore deeper participation in the life of God and consider the participation of God in their life.

That all changed with my retirement. Now, I meet with people at Starbuck’s or Peet’s or at the Prayer Room I maintain in the building of one of the congregations in Novato.

Now, I invite men and women to explore the mutual indwelling of God and themselves in an environment in which there are the sounds of traffic, lawn mowers, high school kids on lunch break, etc.

I have been ruminating (wondering) about this transition and its possible meaning. It occurs to me that there are two wonderful models of monasticism exemplified in this transition.

One the one hand, St. Columba sort of represents the Benedictine, Cistercian model of intentional separation from the daily grind. We are issued an invitation/command:

“And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6.31)

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 2.2-3)

In both cases, the invitation was to realize, contemplate, and serve Him in the context of solitude.

One the other hand, my Prayer Room in the city represents the Franciscan, Sisters of Mercy model of intentional location in the midst of the daily grind. We are invited by Christ to realize, contemplate, and serve Him in environments of crowdedness and noise:

“For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.’  And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’  And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, “Who touched me?”‘ And he looked around to see who had done it.”  Mark 5.28-31

“And when he returned to Caper’na-um after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them.  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.” Mark 2.1-4

Christ apart and Christ in the midst. Not “either or” but rather “both and”.

Both valid.

Both essential.

Both humbling and encouraging.

Both are “sacred space” to address the disciple in a particular aspect of his or her journey of salvation.

Both bear fruit in the other environment. The “apart” produces fruit “in the midst” and “in the midst” bears fruit in the “apart”.

Both vital to growth / transformation of the disciple.

Not a balance – a tension, but rather, a vital and dynamic union – a marriage.

Is one more difficult than the other? I don’t think so. They are both difficult because they touch on aspects of our inner life that rebel against the sovereignty of Christ in that area. Both are, therefore, costly and cross-shaped.

So, I am being invited/commanded, in this transition, to live more completely into the complete Christ – Christ apart and Christ in the midst – with the promise that He can (and must) be found in both environments to be the complete Christ in our life and for us to be abundantly alive.

 Fr. Thomas