About five years ago I spent a week at Mepkin Abbey, a Benedictine monastery near Charleston. I admire the monastic lifestyle and was looking forward to spending a week with the monks…eating, praying, contemplating, etc. The Benedictines are known for their hospitality. In fact, they invite anyone to stay in their guest rooms for free and to eat their simple vegetarian meals for free as well. (Donations always accepted.) I especially looked forward to talking with them about their life of prayer and silence.
Aside from interviewing monks, I wanted to get away for some silence and solitude of my own. I had many things on my mind and wanted desperately to connect with God. On my arrival at Mepkin, I was greeted at check-in by a volunteer, not a monk. This was a tad bit disappointing but I figured I’d have time to meet them later. After settling into my room, I walked the grounds and passed several monks but not one of them said hello or welcomed me. At dinner that night, not a single monk acknowledged my presence or even made eye contact. I thought it was strange but then decided that I couldn’t blame them for not wanting to chat it up with every monastic want-to-be that visited. So, I settled in for a really silent….silent retreat.
On the third morning of my retreat I decided to walk the prayer labyrinth near my room. I was feeling quite desperate by then because not only had the monks not acknowledged my presence, I felt like the Lord had shut me out as well. I could not hear Him or sense His presence at all. As I slowly and deliberately followed the path of the labyrinth, I pour my heart out in prayer. It was a foggy, drizzly morning and I turned my face towards heaven, eyes closed, and tears began to fall. It felt as though my prayers were bouncing off the clouds, returning to me void. It was frustrating. I had carved out time for the Lord but He seemed so far away. With tears still falling, I open my eyes and straight in front of me about 40 yards away was a monk passing by on a bicycle. He was waving frantically towards me. I turned around to see if someone was standing behind me but I was alone in the labyrinth. I turned back towards him and he was waving even more fervently…as though to say, “I’m waving at YOU!” How odd, I thought. I sheepishly waved back. And then I was almost startled when in my mind I heard the Lord say… “I see you and I hear you.” I began to weep uncontrollably. It was so personal! The monk continued on his bike and was soon out of sight. I stood there motionless for a long time. Did God just wave to me and tell me He saw me and heard me?
No…it couldn’t be…it’s just a coincidence, I told myself. But…how strange that not one monk had acknowledged my presence at all and then out of the blue a monk in overalls riding a bike is frantically trying to get my attention.
Later on when I joined the monks for a silent lunch, I scanned the dining room, looking for the one who had waved at me. I had not gotten a good look at his face because it all happened so fast but I thought maybe he would reveal himself to me…meet my gaze and give me a knowing smile that said, “I waved at you this morning.” But nothing. No one made eye contact. Boy, it sure felt like a holy moment to me in that prayer labyrinth but as the day went on I began to talk myself out of it.
In the afternoon I decided to visit the library in the guest house. I sat down and picked up a small book from the coffee table… Benedictine Guide to Ten Steps to Growing in Humility…written by a former abbot of the abbey. I figured I could probably use that, so I opened the book to step one. The first step in growing in humility is believing that the Lord sees you and hears you. Verbatim! WHAT!? No way! It couldn’t be. But it was. It was confirmed to me 100%! That was no coincidence. The Lord, through a bicycle-riding monk in the early hours of a foggy morning, spoke a very personal word to me. And as I began to consider what it would mean to truly believe that the Lord always sees us and always hears us, I understood that it could only develop humility in us…and intimacy. He is God in heaven and here we are on earth and He is always present. But believing that He is always present means that we are constantly acknowledging His presence. It’s the beginning of intimacy with the Creator of the universe. And yes…it is real and it’s not the workings of the human imagination. It’s what we were created for! I have told this story many times and lots of you reading this will be familiar with it. It’s one of the defining moments of my spiritual life.
Yesterday I was commissioned at Saint James church as a missionary to Uganda. For me it was an emotional moment. I have had to overcome so many obstacles and the fact that I had reached that moment was, to me, a miracle. And do you know what words popped into my head as I stood before the congregation and hands were laid on me as I was commissioned? “I see you and I hear you.” How good and faithful He has been to me. And what a privilege it is to be sent out to be a part of His redeeming work in Africa! I go knowing with certainty that I am fully in His care and always in His sight. And you are too!