February 15, 2008

No Cloistered Airport

I have been reading "An Infinity of Little Hours" which is about five young men who seek to become Carthusian monks. The order is one of the most demanding, with the monks living lives of solitude and silence, in a setting that is much as it might have been when the order was founded just after the first millennium. I had this book in my bag on Wednesday when I was traveling. It was a morning of snow and ice, and the airport was shut down for about five hours. There were crowds of people trying to get to warm places, or places for business, or just places other than where they were. And the planes were not flying and the children were fussy and so were the grownups. I tried to read a bit in the book, but it seemed such a contrast that I gave up. And I have been wondering about the struggle of the monks to sense the presence of God, to immerse themselves in prayer, to live faithful lives in a place where the the distraction is themselves. It was a struggle for them, as the book recounts, and not all of them succeeded. And how much more for those of us in places like that airport on Wednesday morning, with noise and crowds and frustration, with short tempers and long waits, with too much coffee and too little sleep and nothing even to remind us of thinking about the presence of God. But there we were, and God was there, too, I suppose, even if it was hard to know that. No one I know lives the kind of life that the Carthusians do, but I do know people who live faithful lives of prayer. It is just a lot harder to do outside the cloister.

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