New wineskins

Jesus said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)

     It can be a messy thing, making a new life. The last few weeks in my life have felt a bit crazed, overwhelmed by the minutiae of relocating. Now that most of it is done, I can take a deep breath and assess the impact of these last few weeks: new call, new home, new driver’s license, new bank accounts, new license plates, new neighbors, new people to meet. At times, I find myself wondering whether the Witness Protection Program could have been much more thorough!

     Transitions also involve, inevitably, a disruption of routine. On a trivial level, I no longer know where to get good Chinese food, where to take my clothes to be dry cleaned, or which direction to walk if I want a morning bagel. But the routines which govern my spiritual well-being run deeper than that. There is Morning and Evening prayer; time for a centering walk; journaling; long conversations with friends. For me, each of these is life-giving, and each must be re-thought as I find my way into a new home. Where and when will they fit into my life now? What new experiences will find their way into my prayers and conversation? How will I be changed by them?

    The dynamic of stability and change is fundamental to our spiritual growth. Stability, because, like any human relationship, our relationship with God requires time. We need to set aside times in our day to be with God, whether they are times in silence, or hopes breathed in the early hours of dawn, or a late-night review of our day, giving thanks for what was good and asking grace to amend what seems broken. Without those times, the urgent events of our lives can crowd out even what we most value, until we are consumed by trivia and lose sight of the person we are meant to be.

     But we also need change, because without change, there is no growth. Without new ideas and new people, we can become trapped in routine, finding that what used to work has become stale, but without a direction in which to turn. Or, change can be unsought-for. Our life can change around us, in ways lovely or deeply painful, and we are compelled to find new ways to live. Often, these changes can feel like loss, but even so, Christ allows us to use them to grow in holiness. Without new challenges, we can learn no new ways to love.

     For the last twelve years, I have been an associate of a monastic community, which means that, like some of you, I live under a rule of life. A rule is a document we make for ourselves which helps us identify the ways in which we wish to live and give structure to those hopes. My own is an adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict, which dates from the sixth century. In that rule, both stability and hospitality are among the key principles: stability, so that we are rooted in Christ and in one another, and hospitality, so that we are always open to the new guises in which Christ enters our lives. As we begin our time together here, I encourage you to reflect on these movements in your own life. What anchors you and keeps you vital in your daily living? What new doors might Christ be opening for you? And what might he be encouraging you to allow to fall away?

Blessings and grace,