I awakened at 2:30 a.m. on the first morning of a week-long writers’ workshop. I wasn’t dreaming, or having a vision exactly, but something was nudging me to write. This rarely happens to me and so I reluctantly paid attention. Word by word a poem was emerging from a visit to a thousand year-old Benedictine monastery called Piona Abbey, on Lake Como in Northern Italy, in 2006. For reasons I can’t explain, the scenes from that holy place were returning, and the monastery bells were calling me.
For a thousand years the monastery bells of Piona Abbey have been ringing,
calling the monks,
and now calling me,
to drop everything
and to fall down into God again.
The bells will not leave me alone.
They keep calling me
back into the empty spaces and inner places,
back to a life of prayer for the world.
When the frigid snows drift down from the Alps, they ring.
When the warm summer breezes skim the lake’s surface, they ring.
In the dead of night, this night I mean,
they have called me to get up
and fall down again.
I did not ask for this life of descent.
And I didn’t fabricate this call.
The Abbey bells were calling before my existence.
It’s just that now they are ringing in my ears,
And they call me out of my bed,
onto these knees
into this life,
this ego-crushing life of prayer for the world.
“Come now,” they say.
“Come down into God’s heart for this world.
Walk through the chapel doors,
the ones with Silencio carved into the aged wood,
and fall into silence again.
And do not think you are all alone here.
Remember you are kneeling in a long procession.
Feel your brother’s robes brushing against you.
Hear the chanting of the prayers.
Sing the psalms together.
Smell the lingering aroma of a thousand years of incense,
as a sign that you are home.
Know the sound of those bells mean you no harm.
But they do call you to face what you must face,
to dismantle the false scaffolding
so that you can fall down into God, again.
Follow the monks who have walked this path before you
all the way down.
Fall until you can’t do this anymore.
Be broken open, in darkness, and nothingness
and wait there.
Await the summons.
Then answer every day.”
There are more stories like this in Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, and I hope this will someday be included in The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere: Searching for the Wild Divinity.