January 26, 2019: A Reflection for the Feast of the Founders of our Cistercian Order

Quite a few years ago on a warm summer’s night, I awoke in the middle of the night. There was no moon, so the land lay in darkness and profound stillness as only the night can produce. My window was wide open to catch any stray breeze and I lay in bed quietly wondering when sleep would overcome me. Then from the heart of the stillness and dark, one lone bird began to sing. Loud and clear, as if pouring its heart into the night, it sang and sang and sang. It was of the thrush family, I am sure, because the tone was rich and eloquent, peaceful yet containing all that the bird could offer. I was transfixed by the sheer beauty of the song and the joy emanating from that lone bird’s heart and I thought, “That is what the Cistercian Life is all about.” On this day of our Holy Founders, let me explain.

I once heard a saying of Leon Bloy, “Joy is the echo of God’s life within us.” Joy. Echo. God’s life. The Cistercian Way is the way of joy. Joy, because it springs from God’s life within us, is different from happiness. Both are good, don’t get me wrong. But joy is not dependent on circumstances going our way or on things outside us. Joy comes from God’s life within us and sings its song of love from that deep place within where we come forth from the creative heart of God each moment. We are safe, secure, and utterly delighted in by God in every second of existence.

How do we get there? That is our life’s journey. All of us, whether Cistercian or lay person. The song of joy must resonate from a free heart. It doesn’t mean that WE must empty our hearts of all that clutters our relationship with God, but that we open ourselves to the transforming love of God every day and follow him by our actions. In prayer, to be sure, in lectio divina, in loving service. All these clear out the chamber of our hearts for our song to be sung. Joy is the echo of God’s life within us. When we touch that deepest place within, where God and I are one, joy is what springs up. Because we no longer try to make life bend to us and our ego, a hopeless task, we can relax into God and let Him show us in the circumstances of daily life and the secret recesses of our being, how much we can trust him, enjoy him (frui deo) and share him with each other. That is joy. That is delight. Even if we sing our song in the middle of the night, in the dark of pain, inner and outer, since we are centered in God, there is joy. We are loved, cared for and treasured by him. Joy is the fruit of our offering ourselves to God. May we all be filled with joy always. And sing from our toes on out!