(I preached this sermon on June 1st, 1982, the first anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. The Rev. Susan Creighton+)

Mosaic from the Clyde Adoration Chapel of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Clyde, MO

My Dear Cousin:

I dictate this letter with faltering voice and with a great sense of weariness, for the years have multiplied upon my head. I am so old now that I’ve forgotten just how many years there have been. But I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten everything. In fact, it seems the events of long ago happened only yesterday, and now as the dusk of my life draws to a close, and the soft darkness of death approaches, I feel moved to share some of these memories with you.

For you see, dear cousin, you were really the only one who fully understood; and of course you were the only one who could—for you, too, were a woman, and a mother—and you, too, have borne a son dear to your heart.

That day long ago when you visited me so unexpectedly is as clear in my memory as the summer sun. Then, as now, we lived high in the hills of Judea, and the air was clear and sharp, yet heavy with the expectation of the late rains and of the harvest soon to be gathered in. It had been a long, cold spring for me, and I had felt all the aches of the ancient in my heavy body; even then, my years were many. And then there was this added burden—so welcome but still so heavy.

My belly grew and my legs ached with the weight of it, and I wondered as my time grew near whether or not my strength would fail me.

My body had never learned in its youth how to be a mother, and these lessons come late were taxing to body and soul. I found a loneliness in it, for my beloved husband was enveloped in a great silence that even my love could not seem to penetrate. He had been like this ever since his last turn of service at the temple in Jerusalem: utterly unable to speak, and with the light in his eyes turned inward as if he gazed upon a sight beyond human vision. I know now that his silence came from God, but then it was a hard thing to know, and I longed so for just a word from him—just a word to tell me that he shared both my pain and my joy. But his silence became my silence, and together we waited.

In all those silent months, I had long hours to pray and think, for my old body refused to labor in other ways. It, too, had turned inward, and all my energies seemed to pour into this new life within me, and to leave little over for outward concerns. And as I waited and prayed, and grew heavier and heavier, I remembered: I remembered Sarah as she must have been: like me, both joyous and frightened with the advent of a pregnancy so ardently longed for. I remembered her faithfulness, her willingness to follow Abraham to new lands, to uncertain futures, to the eternal seeking of what must have seemed an illusory promise. Sarah knew; she knew what it was to wait, and pray, and remember. She knew what it was to be a mother, to bear a son, to let him go.

Then there was Rachel: won by Jacob after long years of labor; sharing him with her sister Leah. Rachel, too, must have known long years of silence and grief and prayer. And then at last God “hearkened to her and opened her womb” and she bore her son Joseph. Rachel knew: she knew what it was to wait, and pray, and remember; she knew what it was to journey ever forward and follow a God who demanded all; Rachel knew what it was to give that all as she labored over the birth of her son Benjamin, the son who claimed her life as the price of his own.

And so the long months went on, there on the hills of Judea. The days passed, and I waited, and my belly grew. I found it hard to sleep, and often rose long before the dawn to sit in the soft darkness and watch the light slowly creep over the eastern mountains. Those were the moments when I felt utterly at peace; I knew that my beloved had been faithful to God; I knew that the life within me would not die; I knew that the silence and waiting would come to an end.

Those quiet mornings were precious to me, and I felt my own heart sing as the first sleepy birds began the morning chorus. And singing brought to mind that other old friend from the past: Hannah. Like me, Hannah had been long barren, and sorely tormented by her affliction. She, too, had known the scorn of others as the years rolled past. She, too, waited and prayed most fervently, and the Lord heard her prayer and had pity upon her. In due time Hannah conceived, and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.” Hannah knew what it was to bear a son, and to let him go—to lend him to the Lord’s service; and she knew how to rejoice in her blessing: “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God . . . He raised up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.”

Hannah knew how to wait, and pray. Hannah knew how to sing.

And so, dear cousin, the months passed. And that clear spring day dawned, and the birds sang, and I went about the chores of my silent house, waiting, ever waiting.

Then you came. You entered my house and greeted my beloved and me, and with the sound of your young, hopeful voice, the child in my own womb leapt for joy.

From the deep pit of silence within me came the cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! . . . And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

And your voice broke into song: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” You sang, O Mary, my cousin, and you brought joy and peace to our silent house. And then you departed upon your own way, already swelling with the child within your own womb, and I waited, larger and heavier, and so near to my own time of delivery.

Yes Mary, we both know what it is to wait, to bear a son, to let him go, to sing.

And in these many years since, we have not ceased learning to wait, to pray, and to sing. Even in those moments of the greatest grief, we have known joy. My own John left us so early; his father’s blessing was upon him, and he went forth to prepare the way of the Lord; he went forth to be the prophet of the Most High . . . It was hard to let him go, and yet we knew we must, for he was ours no longer; the Spirit had claimed him from time before time, from that moment in the temple when my beloved Zechariah was struck dumb.

But it was hard to let him go: Sarah’s son was spared the knife; my son was not.

Yet still we sang: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.” And you, my dear: you were so very young, yet you bore so very much more. You bore the Son who redeems us all; you bore the pain of scorn and rejection even as he lay in your womb; you bore the abandonment of Golgotha; you bore the incredible news of his resurrection; you bore the sight of his risen body and sore wounds.

You bore all this, my dear Mary, because you are the most favored one: You are she, chosen above all women to be the Mother of God.

You are she, my dear, who has become the mother of us all. Yes, even of me, your old, old cousin. For you are she who has taught us all to wait, to pray, to remember, to sing.

You are she who has taught us to bear forth within our barren bodies the Word of the Lord.

You are she who has taught us to seek the fruit of Christ within the hearts and minds and souls and bodies of all whom we meet.

You are our Mother, calling us forth to give birth to Love.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

With weary joy, my dear, I remain your affectionate cousin,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                +Elizabeth+

Resurrection by Mikhail Nesterov

John 20:1-31

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

(I wrote this 3 years ago….today, even the “Wailing of the Wood” seems to be silenced by our quarantine.)

The Wailing of the Wood
Good Friday, 2017 (reprise: 2020)

Many sunrises ago, my mother seed,
plucked by a hungry dove,
and nourished in its belly,
fell upon rocky soil, was trod
deep by a wandering sheep’s hoof,
then thirstily drank the droplets
from a summer’s rain.

Seasons passed, and many more;
my cells swelled and grew,
ever stretching toward the Light.
Then one late autumn day, sharp steel
axes cut deep into my flesh, and I fell hard
upon the rocks that had been my cradle.

In the dim months of winter, I was carried,
pulled, tugged, and flipped, with steel teeth
cutting deep into my flesh again,
until shaped square and planed smooth.
The spring-time moon shone brightly overhead,
when once again I was hauled about,
cut into two pieces, and sent upon my way.

My longest part reached the Hill first;
then came my shorter portion,
carried upon a poor Man’s bleeding shoulders;
He could barely walk beneath my weight.
My parts were joined, and then His flesh was
laid upon my own, and hammered in.

They lifted us together, and as His sinews were torn
and joints were pulled, my own flesh stretched
to hold him close, secure. A last breath sighed,
“Forgive them all,” and I knew my work was done.
His Mother wept; his friends fled, as all around
the mountains echoed the eternal cry:
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

© 2017 Susan Creighton

Descent of the Holy Spirit


THE PRAYER OF HOLY SILENCE

When the Whole Creation groans in travail . . .

During the earliest days of Christianity, when the followers of Jesus the Christ were under nearly constant persecution, the faithful were often unable to gather together to celebrate the mysteries of the Eucharist. Drawing on their inheritance from Jewish Temple and Synagogue, they continued to pray morning and evening, often simply in family groupings or in solitude.

As the worst of the Roman persecutions abated, and Christianity became a legal religion in the empire, regular gatherings in churches were allowed and even encouraged. Yet many souls—both men and women—felt called to a more deliberate and intense discipleship, and retreated to the mountains and deserts to follow Christ through their lives of prayer in silence, solitude, and simplicity. Eventually these hermits and anchorites became so numerous, they began to gather together to share their lives of prayer and service while living communally in monasteries. One of the oldest of these (in continuous existence since the early 4th Century) is the Monastery of St. Catherine, at the base of Mount Sinai in the Egyptian desert. http://www.sinaimonastery.com/index.php/en/history

Throughout the long history of the Earth, humanity (indeed, all of God’s creation) has been threatened in various ways, times, and places by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death, Famine, War, Pestilence. Our time is no different. The coronavirus, COVID-19, is simply the one we face in 2020. And just as our ancestors down through the ages have done, we will fight these threats with all our medical, technological, and political might.

And we will pray, just as they did—in our churches, synagogues, and temples (when we can), in our homes with our loved ones, in our solitudes (whether by choice, or by circumstance), remembering always the elderly, the homeless, and the dying, and those who care for them.

. . . we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with
sighs too deep for words.

Our prayers will take many forms: the familiar and beloved words of liturgy and hymns, or the simpler prayer of the heart, “Lord, have mercy.”. And perhaps we may find our prayers are “too deep for words” and we fall silent before the immensity of the perils of our time, but even more profoundly, we fall silent before the sure and certain hope that we and the entirety of creation are eternally held in the Heart of God.

. . . For I am sure that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the
love of God in Christ our Lord.
(Romans 8: 22, 26, 38)

During this time of pestilence, and the “physical distancing” it requires, perhaps some of you may wish to explore an ancient and simpler form of daily prayer, which you may find in my BREVIARY of HOLY SILENCE on the page SONGS of the SOUL. I will be posting other relevant material on this page in the near future.

With blessings and prayer for God’s creation and all who dwell therein.
The Rev. Susan Creighton
16 March 2020




Photo by Francois Guillot/AFP

HOLY DWELLING
‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’

Monday in Holy Week, April 15, 2019
Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris engulfed by fire

(David)
Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house,
that thou hast brought me thus far? . . .
For thou, My God, wilt build a house for him;
thy servant has found courage to pray before thee.


We build our temples of stone and wood,
walls wrapped with precious gold and jewels of glass;
They hold—and hide—our path to God,
and within, nourish our courage to pray.

(Jesus)
Do you see these wonderful stones and great buildings?
Not one stone will be left here upon another;
all will be thrown down. Destroy this temple,
and in three days I will raise it up.


When even temple stones are silenced,
God’s Voice sings on within our hearts,
raising within our Soul the Holy Dwelling
of Love that fire and flood can never doom.

(Mary Magdalene)
O, who will roll away the stone barring the tomb?
He is not here; he has risen! Go forth singing,
Allelulia! Christ is Risen!
He is Risen, indeed! Allelulia!


David: 1 Chronicles 17: 16, 25
Jesus: Mark 13:1-2; Mark 14:58
Mary Magdalene: Mark 16:1-7

(c) Susan Creighton 2019




I am pleased to announce the publication of my book, DeepLight: A Memoir of the Soul.

DeepLight: A Memoir of the Soul is a rich narrative of a contemporary woman’s spiritual quest. Within the context of her extensive study of religious and mystical traditions, and her experiences as a woman, a monastic, and an Episcopal priest, Susan Creighton weaves a spiral tapestry of memories, journal entries, and poetry. Her search for an authentic practice of contemplative prayer led across cultural, historical, and religious boundaries, but is most significantly shaped and enriched by the teachings of mystics like St. John of the Cross and the ancient tradition of Orthodox ascetical theology and spiritual practice. Now living under vows as an anchorite, her memoir shares with the reader ways in which the Jesus Prayer and other spiritual practices lead to deeper contemplative prayer as well as helping us develop greater discrimination and compassion for ourselves and others.

Endorsements:

“Creighton’s fascinating memoir, which reminds me of Thomas Merton’s Seven-Storey Mountain, explores how a brain disorder can affect, even intensify, spirituality.”
Eve LaPlante, author of Seized

“If anyone can speak truly about a personal pilgrimage into an ‘anchorhold’ of profound faith, it is Susan Creighton. . . . Her story will speak to any seeking soul as it has to mine.”
–Luci Shaw Author of Thumbprints in the Clay

“To write about the soul, you have to know it, yours, and in some deeper ways, the souls of others. When I visited Susan’s anchorhold, and sat with her there, I knew I was with someone who did.”
Gregory H. Rickel, VIII Bishop of Olympia (Washington)

“This is not a book to be read hastily. It should be savored, wrestled with, confronted as the reader walks with [Creighton] the spiral labyrinth to the heart of all being.”
Linda Maloney, OblSB

“DeepLight is an uncommon invitation to observe a long, rich, and difficult Christian spiritual life. Seldom is such a life uncovered with such brutal honesty, courage, and love.”
–Kathryn Rickert, School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle University

“DeepLight testifies about a lifelong intensive search for the “essence” of faith in deep prayer and union with God . . . Reading the book . . . may open up a deep inner response, allowing the gentle voice of one’s own soul to be heard in the midst of a hurrying, noisy and violent world.”
Ingrid Schirmer, University of Hamburg

 

DeepLight: A Memoir of the Soul may be ordered from Wipf and Stock Publishers http://wipfandstock.com
Resource Publications
ISBN 13: 978-1-5326-4540-2
Retail: $25.00     Web price: $20.00
Pub. Date: 4/11/2018
Available on Amazon, Ingram, and Kindle by mid-May.

 

Susan Creighton is an anchorite in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. Ordained a priest in 1981, she has served in monastic, parish, and campus settings. She now fulfills her vocation under vows of silence, solitude, and simplicity, focusing her prayer and study around the ascetical and mystical teachings of the Prayer of the Heart. Her blog may be found at www.holydwelling.com, and she lives in Bellingham, Washington. Her email is anchorite@holydwelling.com

 

 

Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Matthew 27:54)

The Centurion

The others said He was dead,
To be sure, I drove my spear into His side.

His Blood splashed down upon me
And I felt a chill to my spine.

The sun is setting; the women have gone.
Some old man has come to claim His naked Body.

We have divided his garments among us.
I won His tunic with a throw of the dice.

I will keep watch where they have laid Him.
It is the least I can do.

Perhaps this Robe of His will warm my flesh.
Indeed, my heart seems strangely warm.

Good Friday 2018     (c) Susan Creighton

Tradition holds that Longinus was the Roman centurion who was in charge of the men guarding the Cross with Christ crucified on it at Golgotha. Later, he was baptized and began preaching the Gospel himself. He died a martyr’s death for his beliefs, and was later canonized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SILENCE of the WORD

How does one make a gift of words
to the ONE who is the WORD?

How can silence be heard in a cacophony of words
when only in SILENCE can the WORD be heard?

How can a noisy world receive a breath of silence
When the ONE who made the world is SILENCE?

Blessed Mary said “Yes” to the WORD
carrying the SILENCE of ONE in her womb.

The hermits of old said “Yes” to the WORD
listening to the ONE of SILENCE in solitude.

The poets of today say “Yes” to the WORD
bringing the SILENCE of ONE to our hearts.

Susan Creighton © 2018

 


The Wailing of the Wood
Good Friday, 2017

Many sunrises ago, my mother seed,
plucked by a hungry dove,
and nourished in its belly,
fell upon rocky soil, was trod
deep by a wandering sheep’s hoof,
then thirstily drank the droplets
from a summer’s rain.

Seasons passed, and many more;
my cells swelled and grew,
ever stretching toward the Light.
Then one late autumn day, sharp steel
axes cut deep into my flesh, and I fell hard
upon the rocks that had been my cradle.

In the dim months of winter, I was carried,
pulled, tugged, and flipped, with steel teeth
cutting deep into my flesh again,
until shaped square and planed smooth.
The spring-time moon shone brightly overhead,
when once again I was hauled about,
cut into two pieces, and sent upon my way.

My longest part reached the Hill first;
then came my shorter portion,
carried upon a poor Man’s bleeding shoulders;
He could barely walk beneath my weight.
My parts were joined, and then His flesh was
laid upon my own, and hammered in.

They lifted us together, and as His sinews were torn
and joints were pulled, my own flesh stretched
to hold him close, secure. A last breath sighed,
“Forgive them all,” and I knew my work was done.
His Mother wept; his friends fled, as all around
the mountains echoed the eternal cry:
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

© 2017 Susan Creighton

 

Palm Sunday, 2017

The Donkey speaks:
What’s that you say?
The Lord has need of me? And my foal as well?
To carry Him to Jerusalem this day?
Ah, well, that is my lot in life, is it not?
To carry burdens upon my shoulders, like the Cross I bear.
Oh, my—I wonder if He will notice the Cross upon my back?
Will he see the Cross again very soon?
In five short days, they say.
And then I will not be there to carry Him.
For He will bear His own Cross,
And be a beast of burden for all the world.
He may ride upon my back this day.

Susan Creighton, April 9, 2017

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