Once a month, I take a special day that I call “Wholey Day.” (I used to spell it “Holy Day” until I made the connection between holiness and wholeness.) It’s akin to a personal holiday (a word that comes from “holy day”), where I get away from everybody and everything, and spend the day in prayer, devotional reading, and whatever else builds up my spirit. I go hiking, wandering, whatever. Jesus needed to get away, reflect and recharge upon occasion, I figure it’s okay for myself as well.
I spent my last Wholey Day at the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, reading at café tables, wandering the shops, and enjoying the outdoors. The Mall boasts a great array of unusual people, but that day I saw a very odd sight. Four monks dressed in albs walked by, backpacks and bedrolls slung on their backs.
I desperately wanted to talk with them. This being my “monkish” day, it seemed their presence was a puzzle piece that fit. I hailed them at a distance. “Brothers!” I called. They turned and waited for me to catch up with them.
It turned out that they were Franciscan monks who were hiking the Appalachian Trail. They had turned aside to see Charlottesville. They were spreading the message of Jesus as they went. They carried no food or money, but accepted donations for their sustenance, as St. Francis did.
I told them that, though I’m not Catholic, St. Francis is a great hero of mine. I said that I greatly admired the monastic lifestyle. Of course, with a wife and four children, it’s a lifestyle that I could never follow, but I told them that today was my once-a-month personal monastic day. During the course of our brief conversation, I told them that I was a Baptist minister. Before we parted, they asked if I would bless them. I prayed with them, asking God for strength and provision for their journey, and we went our separate ways.
What I’m reflecting on now, a month after the event, is my distinct inability to receive the blessing that these human angels had for me. While I was interested in them on some level, I think my real interest was in having them understand and appreciate me. It was in having the validation of my hero, Francis—albeit indirectly, from his followers. This, in its extreme irony, flies in the face of that famous prayer of St. Francis: “Grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.”
I should have been seeking more, and speaking less. I had four angels show up in my life, and I was more interested in their understanding me than I was interested in understanding them, and the message they might have for me. I should have said, “Brothers, bless me, too!” But I did not. It was a moment in my life that I can never re-live. But I would, if given the chance. Perhaps on other occasions, if God sends angels into my life, I will listen.
We all have times when we should be listening to God’s Word as it comes to us from other people, but instead we choose to fill the conversation with our own thoughts. My prayer is that we all might not seek not so much to be understood, as to understand. And that by understanding, we might hear God’s voice.
Check out this Washington Post article about these monks. (Thanks, Paul, for finding this article for me online.)