From a glass of wine at a particular restaurant to the reason for being in Wisconsin: a six month sabbatical at the Friends of God Dominican ashram (then in Kenosha, now in Adrian, Michigan) settled by the shores of Lake Michigan and a long stretch of public park down to the harbour and its lighthouse, the repeating target of my daily walks.
It was a small community, three friars and a sister when I arrived, dedicated to renewing a contemplative dimension to Dominican life and to the wider community, beyond denominational boundary. It was a place of virtuous hospitality, simply offered, that rapidly welcomed me to its heart.
I expected that in my six month break - I would rest, advance in my reading and settle into a pattern of liturgical life that would be nourishing and restorative. I found in truth an intensity of silence that reignited wonder, a sense of being at home that was deeply restful and a dream life that went into overdrive - having no responsibilities beyond cooking on Thursdays was the only way I could navigate the drive of my unconscious!
In my first week I was lying on my bed one afternoon 'focusing' (a way of paying attention to the felt sense of your deepest needs) on what I hoped for from the sabbatical. An image arose that creased me in laughter: of God as a large, elderly man with a long flowing white beard, leaping with bounding strides from cloud to cloud, bearing in his hands giant florets of broccoli, and in a booming voice declaring, "Nicholas, Nicholas, behold the broccoli of God"!!!
It reminded me of George Herbert's poem: Love III
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin,
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
"A guest," I answered, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"
"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.
The striking first line: Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back captures a deep reality: that it is the invitation to our graced freedom that is the most difficult gift to accept. The uncertainty of that freedom, and what it might ask of us, held against the safe boundaries of our certainties; however disfiguring and confining, they are 'ours', often have I felt it, my resistance - to sitting and tasting my ever present, much neglected, freed self.