God willing, this Sunday May 3, I make my first simple promises as a Lay-Cistercian of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. This comes at the culmination of two years in the Lay-Cistercian novitiate. These promises are basically for one year, and I will renew them again at least twice before making my lifetime promises.
While generally the big celebrating takes place with the life profession, I must confess to a measure of excitement even as I approach my simple promises. Becoming a novice two years ago was pretty easy: I basically just had to promise to show up once a month. Now the stakes are much higher: in front of the Abbot of the Monastery as well as the entire Lay-Cistercian Community, I’ll be promising to conduct a life of continual conversion in the spirit of contemplative prayer, with the Rule of Benedict as my guide. Even when I make my lifetime promises, the promises themselves will essentially be the same. So this is it — this is when I basically say to God and my community, “I choose the Christian life as expressed through Cistercian spirituality.” It feels like almost as big a deal as being received into the church, which happed just four years ago.
So… it’s a day for celebration. And I just learned this morning that, in the prodigal, lavish grace that flows through the universe, a particularly appropriate way to celebrate will be available for me and my family, this weekend…
When I was a small child, my first real concept of the Blessed Virgin Mary was as the “Star of the Sea,” for I grew up near Fort Monroe, VA, where both the Catholic Church and the Catholic Elementary School are named for Stella Maris. Even as a little boy who had no sense of the Catholic Faith or of devotion to the Blessed Mother, I remember the image of the Star of the Sea had caught my imagination. Upon entering the Catholic faith and becoming involved with Cistercian spirituality, I bumped into Our Lady, Star of the Sea again, this time learning that Bernard of Clairvaux had a particular devotion to Mary under this epithet. So even though I live about 250 miles from the ocean and haven’t been on a boat for probably seven years now, Mary Star of the Sea remains far and away my favorite epithet for the Blessed Mother. I think this has to do not only with how she keeps showing up in my life over and over again, but also my sense that contemplative spirituality is a profound exploration of the “inner ocean” (the “Topographic Oceans,” in the words of the rock band Yes). Mary, the Star of the Sea, is thus a guide for contemplatives as they traverse the inner waters.
Incidentally, for those of you interested in pagan and goddess spirituality: Isis of Egypt was also known as Stella Maris.
I’ve always loved sacred choral music, and am particularly fond of the many arrangements of the 8th-century hymn Ave Maris Stella that composers as varied as Liszt, Grieg, Palestrina, Byrd, and others have written. So… you can imagine my delight when I learned that Atlanta’s wonderful sacred music chorale, Atlanta Schola Cantorum, will be performing settings of Ave Maris Stella at their concert this weekend!
I’ll be at the St. Bart’s show on Sunday evening, celebrating my earliest concept of the Blessed Mother and giving thanks for promises made that very day.
If you’re in Atlanta, I hope to see you there.