First you wake up, very, very early in the morning. All is motionless and dark. In some ways, there is nothing really special about the time – all you know is that it still seems like the middle of the night (and in some respects, it really is!). Sunlight has not even begun to creep toward the horizon. Heading toward the chapel, you might see something wild crawling out of the woods.
Today is the feast of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and I’m surrounded by Trappist memories. The Post-Communion prayer that was spoken today are Ignatius’ words: “I am the wheat of Christ, ground by the teeth of beasts to become true bread.” My dear old monastic friend Chrysogonus composed a piece on those words, a song that eventually made it onto our collection “Witness of the Saints.” And now I am hearing these words in the pre-dawn hours on the feast of the martyr.
When you wake up for Lauds, you also make a decision to literally greet the day. This part of the year, Lauds starts in darkness and by the time Mass arrives, the sun has begun to make her presence known. The passage of that time, from pre-dawn darkness to early light of rosy day, is something that most of us miss, if only for the fact that we are hurried through our morning rituals of getting ready for work.
But right now, we are not getting ready for anything. We are just praying. And standing in silence. And listening to the Word. And breaking bread. In the midst of all this, there is the slow, steady, purposeful advance of dawn.
About thirty years ago, almost by a fluke, I made a trip down to the Abbey of Gethsemani, while I was taking a course on the Book of Psalms at Notre Dame. That one trip changed the trajectory of my life and my friendships, influenced the way I approached the craft of music writing, and eventually brought my own son to a Trappist monastery.
Here we are then, standing in the quiet before the break of day, caught up in the quiet. This is what I was thinking:
In some ways, we are all grist for the mill, our lives being ground up into the flour that, hopefully, might feed others. Whether it be through our songs, our witness, our labors, our commitments – every part of our life eventually makes it into the mill of life, that we might, please God, be bread for others.
So, like every other morning on this planet, the dawn broke again today. Except today, I marked every minute: quietly, deliberately, with peace-filled prayer.