September 1, 2013

A Talk for the Start of 'Candy Season'

This Chapter Talk was given on September 1, 2013.  Traditionally we start what we call "Candy Season" on Labor Day each year. Candy Season for us involves longer work hours and lots more candy production as we gear up for candy sales for Thanksgiving and Christmas. As for many people September hails a new beginning, a new school year, a new job etc. Whatever the new task perhaps M. Rebecca's words to the sisters at Mississippi Abbey on "Candy Season" will be applicable in your own life.            
                                                                                                                                                                                             M. Rebecca
As we learned at our brunch with Archbishop Jackels last Sunday, we are moving into…football season! …but something we are more aware of is that we are also moving into candy season. Like football, we too need a ‘team spirit’ during our candy season. But unlike football, we have no opponents and so we do not need a plan of defense (God forbid!) and especially not an offensive strategy! Rather we enter this season, as today’s gospel theme points out, with a desire for humility. What kind of football team would be any good if their quarterback was gentle or the receiver acquiesced to the other’s will. Yet what would our candy crews be like if we weren’t!!

One thing I enjoy about candy season is that it is a time we all work together – as a team. The other seasons we can be spread out due to a variety of the jobs around the monastery. When I entered, we use to have on occasion a “common work” period where we all got together to put up hay, or “walk the beans”, or chop thistles and whoever couldn’t do the outdoor work, would gather in the kitchen and process our produce. I always found that a fun time. But the only common work we have now is during candy season. Maybe if we did this all year round it wouldn’t be so ‘enjoyable’ (!) – but it is something I like about the season.

Another is that it is a work where we can truly attempt to fine tune our practice of mindfulness and spiritual focus.   This is a desire of a monk by its very definition: “monos” – or ‘one’ –we strive for a oneness of mind and heart and action. It seems so easy – to be mindful of what you are doing as you do it but it is amazing where thoughts can take us! In Tools Matter, Meg sums it up very cinquely:
                                    First) do one thing;
                                    Second) be mindful of the doing of it;
                                    Third) shift your intention to do it for/with/in Christ Jesus.

With this, manual labor becomes an outward sign of inner spiritual work…and “our work becomes our prayer and our prayer becomes our work.” Bringing God into our efforts not only transforms our work, but also ourselves…and those around us. It is a simple yet powerful gift given to us if we use it! “Since we have offered to do all for the glory and honor of God, our motivation and purpose for work is God.” Then we can easily see, as St Benedict encourages us in the Rule, that each sister and each volunteer is Christ, the candy wrapper is to be treated as a vessel of the altar, the broom is sacred…and that yes, even the burned batch of caramel is gift! When we do this, God’s presence will be tangible in our work - thru our smiles, humility, kindness, patience, and focused efforts. Then God truly is everywhere and our candy house becomes a kind of chapel of its own…holding Christ in its center.

The major opponent to this prayerful work and an enjoyable candy season, is anxiety. When we are preoccupied with the future (and ‘future’ can be defined as only a few minutes from the present) or if we are preoccupied with replaying the past (and the ‘past’ also can be defined in minutes), we can find our self stressful without knowing why. If I hear myself say, “I am not getting my own work done”, then it is a call to shift the thoughts because at this season, this is our work and we want to be totally present so that we can be kind, peaceful, and of humble service. Our goal and desire at candy this season is to deepen our love for God, to follow Christ selflessly, to carry any crosses cheerfully, and to expand our hearts in gratitude. Each of these is a ‘touchdown’ so to speak, for we then reach our goal! And as in football, it isn’t enough to just make it to the finish line – we must also be carrying the ball when we do so. In other words, we can reach our goals but if we are not carrying Christ into all we do, there is no point gained; there is no victory. But it is a joy and encouragement to know that when one person makes it to the goal the whole team wins! So let us help each other reach these goals, which is to love Christ and be like Him. The amount of coated candy or number of bags we make is secondary. It is important…BUT it is secondary.

Yet in football we also need ‘blockers’, someone or something to protect the players and keep them from losing the ball, or fumbling. In candy season one of these ‘players’ that can help and protect us could be called “silence”! On Monday we focused on the importance of silence as a protector of mindfulness so we can carry Christ in our hearts with intention and attention. We seem to hit on 2 aspects: one was the practical while the other was on HOW we should be silent because it can be positive or negative – oppressive or impressive.   {The lists of these are not included in this text}…Ultimately all of these entail trust in God’s goodness and other people’s goodness too!

Sr Carol quoted Adam of Perseigne: “You have learned from experience that silence is most friendly to divine love.”   So in our love for God, let us work hard, humbly, and with a silent heart so that we can be friends of divine love!

I will close with a question that we might want to reflect on for Retreat Sunday as we kickoff the new season tomorrow: How can I practice and live out of a deeper humility? What could it look like this candy season? And most of all let us ask God for the grace to be humble, loving, selfless, and Christ-like…to reach the finish line carrying the ball!

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