Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 255

What to do in times of despair and hopelessness? What to do when a dark night of the soul has descended on the nation? When that same darkness has defeated our spirit?

I often turn to a passage that I copied in my commonplace book from the novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The book tells how a clandestine book club helped the residents of the island of Guernsey deal with the German occupation during World War II. Here’s the excerpt:

Do you know what sentence of Shakespeare I admire most? It is “The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.” I wish I had known those words the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them—and come off ships down in the harbor! All I could think of was damn them, damn them, over and over. If I could have thought the words, “the bright day is done, we are for the dark,” I’d have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstances—instead of my heart sinking to my shoes.

Another thing I do is listen to Albonini’s Adagio in G Minor and think of the Cellist of Sarajevo, Vedran Smailovic. He caught the world’s imagination when he risked his life by playing that piece for twenty-two days in the bombed-out square of a downtown Sarajevo marketplace after a mortar round had killed twenty-two people waiting for food there.

It’s the mystery of beauty that such difficult words, “the bright day is done, we are for the dark” and such a solemn, almost tragic musical piece, can lift the spirit and bring comfort. Talk about opening the mausoleum door just enough to let in a ray of light.

The church knows all about the power of beauty. Amid the most horrific of human circumstances—betrayal, torture, mutilation, crucifixion, murder—we are given a beautiful story. Once a year the church presents us with the Easter story awash with angels of light, sweet-scented perfume, an empty tomb, a garden of promise, and the resiliency of the human spirit to overcome any force of evil: “The angel said to the women, “do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now go at once and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead….’” (Matthew 28:5-6)

Yes, it’s beauty that we must hold fast to. It’s beauty--in words, painting, music, nature, and in the stories of Scripture -- that can transform despair into confidence and helplessness into hope. It’s beauty that reveals our common humanity and gives us the courage to roll away the stone and rise anew each day.

--this Easter reflection appeared in The Beauty We Must Hold Fast To: Reflections for Lent 2022 published by Pax Christi USA

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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