optional in my life. Much of the work right now is testing the schedule to make sure it is challenging but achievable and that it will bring life to those following it rather than take life away. So far, things are going pretty well, but there was an item missing and that was worship. The time had come to figure out what the daily times of worship will look like here, and if not exactly what it will look like when students get here, at least what it will look like for me in the meantime.
I have known for a while that I wanted some form of Morning Prayer with a daily lectionary reading. As I looked for these items, I was able to find some good resources in the public domain that allowed me to create a page on The Forming Spirit’s website that offers a concise Morning Prayer service that can be used as an individual or with a small group.
It was in using this Morning Prayer service, that I was reminded of one of the things that I love the most about Benedictine Spirituality. That thing is, the repeated parts of your day that you begin to take with you and that work on you to slowly and surely bring about a change. As part of morning prayer, for the last week, I have been listening to the recording of Psalm 95 that is featured at the top of this post. The chorus goes along these lines, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.” It’s a line that stuck with me and that I found myself singing silently throughout the day.
So, as this line is running through my head, I was also struggling with some things, some physical projects I was trying to complete. I had been working to get a washer and dryer set up in our student house, and I was also getting ready to overhaul a toilet that had been turned off for years due to a leak that had developed. The dryer had been hard physically to do but it went fairly smoothly. The washer was another story. The supply lines had gone okay but the drain was giving me fits. The drain line had been rigged up by an unknown saint longer ago than anyone remembers and for my part, I was not sure whether I was re-rigging the jury or re-jurying the rig. To say the least it was proving more difficult than I had anticipated and had taken at least one more trip to the hardware store than I had liked. So I took a break, and decided I’d work on the toilet. I figured it would be simple enough. Just pull it up, slap on a new wax ring, replace the guts in the tank and we’re back in business. Wrong again. I got it off the floor and found something I'd never seen before. There was no flange! It was just a pipe in the floor that appeared to be lead with a lip hammered out of it. I had been struggling with the washer, but knew I'd get it eventually with. This...this was over my head. The funny thing to me though was what was going through my head. It was not, “Oh no, now we don’t have a toilet.” What I was thinking was, great, now I have to admit, there is something I can’t do. That’s a bit of a problem for me. Those that know me know I can do a lot, and at times it seems I can do almost anything. It’s a bit of a source of unhealthy pride for me, and as I was in this moment, the Psalm chorus started playing in my head, “If today you hear God’s voice. Harden not your heart.” I’d like to say it instantly hit me as the chorus kicked in but it took a while to break through. What I began to realize though as this chorus sunk into my dilemmas was my problem had not been a stubborn washer drain or a flangeless toilet. My problem had been, I was trying to prove myself rather than work for the good of the community I’m establishing. Further, my problem was also a desire to do it all myself rather than have to rely on the community I am in, a community that includes experts in their fields. God had been speaking and I had been hardening my heart. God’s voice was an invitation through difficulty to refocus my intentions on what I was doing, and to live out one of the values I wish people to develop: reaching out to others, when their own expertise and abilities are not adequate to a given task.
So my heart was eventually softened and I was led to finding a few more assets that I did not know about. First, I learned that the local co-op has a lot more to offer than I realized. It’s where I was led to find the drain tubing that I needed, 2 blocks away, within walking distance, when I had spent a couple hours driving around. Second, I’m starting to get to know a local plumber, someone I can work with and can get to know and who I can call the next time I find an unexpected surprise in an old house that is coming back to life.
It's occurences like this that make me believe that God is talking to us a whole lot more than we might realize, and that the concept of a hardened heart is a whole lot wider than we give it credit for. The chorus of the Psalm that started this whole episode might be sung more rightly as “WHEN today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.” So listen for God speaking in the little things of your life, the unexpected places, the places of frustration and struggle. What “more excellent way” is God inviting you into? Who is God inviting you to reach out to? What parts of your hard heart is God working to soften?
Just for a chuckle, I wound up sending several pictures to the plumber of the flangeless toilet drain. A few hours later, my phone chimes and I look at it. Google has sent me a notification that says, “Check out your new stylized photo!” So I did, and complete with an offer to buy a print, this is what I was greeted with.
I've never seen a better looking toilet drain.
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Patrick Sipes is the founder and director of The Forming Spirit. You can learn more about him here.