God Shows Himself – Book Excerpt

The chapel was bathed in a soothing yellow light, the monks, and a few of the local farmers from the Valley, were waiting quietly for morning Mass to begin.  In the near silence, one could hear pages turning, and the sound of books being shuffled here and there in the choir stalls, and monks clearing their throats and sniffling.  Finally,almost noiselessly, Fr. John rounded the brick wall of the sacristy, entered the sanctuary, stood behind the alter, raised his right hand to his forehead and said, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit….”

After the chanting of the Apostles Creed and the intentions were prayed, as is the custom of the Trappists, the monks, priests, and postulants, filed one-by-one out of the side choir stalls, and gathered in a rough semi-circle around the steps leading up to the sanctuary for the celebration of the Eucharist.

Standing there among the monks in their long cream coloured habits, the ones with the hoods, I felt soothed by my inclusion in their most sacred prayer.  Not that I really believed in what they believed about the Eucharist, I felt the holiness of their prayer and the sanctity of their offering; for they had forsook the world to stand right where they were, doing what they were doing, offering their gratitude and struggle to their god.

Though, I was not conscious of having my own sense of faith, when we gathered in front of the alter, my spirit relaxed and I found myself imagining I was with Christ’s Apostles at the Last Supper, though not knowing if I was a John or a Judas.  Fr. John was saying Mass this morning.  Behind him was a beautiful multi-coloured stained glass window, all fractured in reds, blues, yellows, and greens, of Christ with his hands out, not quite cruciform, but in a position of offering prayer to God.  Fr. John did the same thing, holding his hands out in prayer, one hand lower than the other, and his head tilted to one side, as was his custom.  Above him hung a monstrous crucifix, Christ’s body made from fired clay, and held above the sanctuary by thick brown chains.  It looked to weighed 2 tons and in my more neurotic moments, I felt anxiety that the chain would break and whole cross would come crashing down on the alter and on Fr. John!

When it came time for the sign of peace, the monks turned one to the other, and to me, and embraced each other, not too closely, but with a sense a formality.  Me, I shook hands with them; anything more would have felt fake.   Mass went through its process and at the end, I was feeling more peaceful than I had in weeks.  Today was my last day and I was excited to be going home to my parents home in London for Christmas.  Beyond that, I had no idea what my life would look like.

By now, it was about 20 minutes after 7:00 and I had 10 minutes before I was meeting with Fr. John, so I walked out to the back door of the monastery and stepped out onto a small patio that overlooked the sprawling Hockley Valley to the northwest.  When I pushed open the steel utility door to the outside, I was immediately hit by a blast of cold air.  It was minus 10 degrees out (Celcius) and the yet blue-black sky of the early morning was clear. Fresh, clean snow, spread out in front of me all the way to the forests edge about 75 metres in front of me.  The snow sparkled, as snow does, just as were stars twinkling in the morning light were yet visible, but it was the moon, a huge full moon that hung just above the horizon to the west that grabbed my immediate attention.

As the sun rose slowly in the east, it’s light illuminated the full moon just above the horizon, exposing its craters, grey lakes, and rough ash coloured surface in incredible detail.  I decided to do my Zen breathing technique, bringing my feet together, standing tall, sweeping my hands up and over my head, at the same time centring my breath in my belly, and bringing them down into the ‘praying hands’ position of standing meditation that Sifu had taught me.

When I opened my eyes, breathed in the cold air, and looked again at the moon, I became conscious that my thoughts had settled and my feelings were completely in sync with my feelings, a feeling I was not acquainted with in my adult life, really.  But I looked at the moon with peerless awareness.  I had no conscious thoughts about it, except that it was overwhelmingly beautify and it captivated my attention like a star-crossed lover.  In and out I breathed, simply watching this incredible display of natural beauty.

It was then that I noticed the gap between the full moon and the horizon closing and suddenly, like a flash of deep clarity and unity, I realized I was witnessing something happening – directly.  I did not think I was watching the moon dropping to the horizon as much as I experienced its massive weight being turned in the fulcrum of the universe’s unbelievable powers.   When I realized I was watching something happen directly, without analyzing it or thinking about it, I thought to myself, “I’m watching something happen!”  I was delighted by the discovery, and continued to watch the moon falling.  It was then that a flood of insights poured into me,   For I was not watching this astronomical moment through the eyes of science, I was watching it directly, and I realized, “Reality exists!  Reality exists!”

I continued to stand there, not thinking about what I was seeing, but focussing on my breath and staying in the moment.  Filled with wonder and a sense of deepening awe, the quietude of my mind was suddenly interrupted by a thought, a message, a gift from the deep, that would change my life forever.  In the field of my conscious mind, behind me and from the left, came these two words: “God exists.”   They were not my words, not my rational mind putting things together.  The words, “God exists,” carried with them a deep understanding that God did in fact exist and everything I thought about him, before this moment, was merely speculation.  I knew that this God I did not know and yet I was not at all threatened by this awareness.  In fact, it brought me great comfort.  As I turned my attention back to the moon, which had descended even lower now, the realization that “reality exists” came together with the words, “God exists,” and I nearly exploded with insight.

As I stared, wonder struck by all that was happening in that moment, I realized that God, this God that i did not really know, had made all of what I saw before me: the moon, the sky, the rolling hills of the Hockley Valley, the trees, the wind, and the snow.  But most of all, i realized he had made me too – and he had made me to share in the experience of reality.  In this way, i realized that, yes indeed, I was made in his image, because I could understand the fundamental nature of reality. I could experience it, appreciate it, live in it – be it!    I realized that this God that had been revealed to me with the words, “God exists,” was the creator of the universe, and that his mind, his conscious self, was in fact reality itself.  I knew, but I don’t know how I knew it, that he created all these things, simply because he thought it.

And playfully, I thought, when God goes out on the town, for a tuxedo he puts on the Canadian Rockies.

Before too long, I snapped out of this experience, bowed to the moon that was nearly descended, and walked into the monastery.  I went to my room, sat on my bed, and breathed in, shaking my head in wonder at what had just happened.  When I poured it all out to Fr. John, he responded in his simple and quiet way, “You’ve had a religious experience.”

Categories Blog Post | Tags: , , | Posted on December 1, 2016

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