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Now Reading: Advent at Clear Creek

Advent at Clear Creek

20111014-066-copyThis post was written on December 8th, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is a part of an ongoing series about our move to rural Oklahoma to be near Clear Creek Abbey.

Advent has come to Clear Creek. The weather, which had been unseasonably warm, has of late turned sharply cold. The rolling Ozark hills of Oklahoma’s Green Country, carpeted only recently in the vibrant color of life, turned rapidly a drab and dead rust color before the trees eagerly shed their leaves like handfuls of somber confetti. The sky, usually a vibrant blue, has been more frequently a heavy leaden grey. Crows have seemingly multiplied, filling the air with their harsh and clashing cries.

As I trudge outside in my heavy muck boots to unleash the chickens on our yard, the grass and skeletal trees are coated in a hoary blanket of frost that crunches beneath my feet. Breath leaves my nostrils in great clouds, like the fiery emanations of some mythical dragon. The chilled air seems thinner somehow, and I wrap my open jacket more tightly around me.

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day to remember the world’s remaking and the devil’s doom. And so we go to Mass. The sky is blue today, as if to celebrate, and streaked with thin wisps of clouds. It is the blue of the Virgin’s mantle.

As we drive down the long and dusty gravel road, cows graze lazily in the abbey’s pastures. Half shorn sheep look terrible in their mangy coats. We come around the corner and are greeted by the looming presence of the half constructed abbatial church. Still unfinished, it is nevertheless imposing, like a great pale creature that has wearily settled its massive bulk in the valley between the hills.

The crypt church, where Mass is held until the church is finished, is welcomingly warm. The sweet scent of incense greets us, a sign that the ancient worship, the pure and perennial sacrifice, is being offered and is ascending before God’s throne. We file into our seats, struggling to keep the children from making too large a commotion.

Shortly after Mass begins, men and boys are invited to join the monks in their procession through the cloister courtyard; an event that is a unique feature of the monastic Mass. Father guest master unlatches the intricately wrought iron gate of the sanctuary to allow us in, and we ascend the cold concrete stairs to the monk’s cloister.

The courtyard is not finished, and half of it is open to the outside. The chill of December air greets us as the monks slowly line the hallway of the courtyard. A statue of Our Lady holding the Christ child is at the end of the hall. A monk places a miter on Father Abbot’s head, and he intones prayers in Latin. The monks respond in swelling chorus with prayers of their own. Another monk swings incense and two more hold candles that flicker in the breeze. I do not know what they are saying, but it is hauntingly beautiful in the growing light of morning.

Here, surrounded by cold mountains of stone and the solemn cadence of the prayers of those who have abandoned all to seek and possess Christ, I am reminded of the cave of Bethlehem. The clouds of our breath could easily be the breath of the animals who inhabited the stable on that night of piercing cold when the Lord of All was born, dispossessed and shivering into a world that had no room for him.

We return to the crypt. The air is grey with the fog of incense. The ancient Kyrie, the only part of the Mass not in Latin, is chanted and the Mass continues. The Epistle and then Gospel are heard.

In Illo tempore: Missus est Angelus Gabriel a Deo in civitatem Galilaeae…

Father Abbot gives a sermon about the exalted brightness and privileges of the Virgin Mary and how her light will obliterate the darkness of evil. I miss a great deal of his sermon because I have to take one of the boys out temporarily, but it is seems an entirely fitting homily for this festal day.

The sermon ends. Father Abbot chants the Creed: Credo in unum Deum… The monks join with him, alternating in chorus like the waves of the sea. Max, my youngest boy, leans over and points to the statue of the Blessed Virgin enthroned at the side of the crypt chapel. “Dad, there’s Mary,” he says in an excited low whisper, as if revealing some tremendous secret. “Yes, you’re right,” I answer approvingly. “I love Mary. And Jesus,” he says.

Soon it is the Preface, my favorite part of the Mass—the call to all creation to praise, adore, and thank God our creator and redeemer. Our duty and our salvation. There are few things more gorgeous than than this chant.

The canon and then the race towards the summit, the consecration. The clanging gong of the abbey bells begins as the white-clad priest elevates the host. My boys crane their necks, straining to see the body, blood, soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. “Jesus is here. I want to see Jesus,” one of them whispers. “Yes, he’s here,” I respond. After the consecration, they begin to fidget again.

***

Christ did not come once. His advent was not a singular event. He comes again and again, every day, to his poor and pitiful creatures, dominated and blinded by passions and beset by sins. He descends upon our altars and into our hearts to become one with us. He is a God that loves us, a God that cannot bear to be far from his children but is compelled by the force of an unfathomable affection to draw near to us. His love cannot wait for us to cross the infinite chasm to be with him where he is, and so he descends into our brokenness if only to be among us.

This is the miracle of Advent. Our anticipation of his coming was not fulfilled two millennia ago. Nor will it be fulfilled at his final coming again. Our Advent watching is fulfilled every day, for he comes every day. He cannot bear to be away.

The watchfulness, the prayer, the preparation that Advent represents should be our daily mode of existence. “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.” We should always be preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ, always making room for him in the cave of our poor souls. We should strive to make them warm with love, dank and barren and inhospitable though they be. And we should invite his Mother to be there in our hearts too, to come in and to prepare a place for him. For where she is Christ is always at home.

Let us watch and wait. But let us not look forward to some distant parousia. Let us receive him daily, for daily he stands at the door and knocks. His presence is always close. He is a good God who loves mankind. He is the God who desires to dwell among us, in all our misery and brokenness and failure—not as a regal king, but as a poor and shivering child born among the pungent refuse of animals.

He is Emmanuel, the God who is always with us. Will we make room for him?

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Written by

Sam Guzman

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7 People Replies to “Advent at Clear Creek”

  1. Sam, this may be my favorite post you’ve ever written. Thank you for sharing your journey, your reflections, and your wisdom. Although our mass at home isnt externally as beautiful as what you describe here, spiritually it is no less majestic or profound if only we could truly appreciate what happens each day on the altar. God bless you and your family. I pray for your ministry every day.

  2. I missed this Mass through my own fault and I wish that I went. My Wife and I pray the Rosary with the kids as often as possible as we love Mary. God bless you and your Family Sam. Have a happy Holy Christmas.

  3. marcusjosephus

    Dear Sam and All,

    Over seven years ago I visited Clear Creek and then posted to several places on internet concerning that experience. I present it here again. For those who wish to know what a visit might be like it may be helpful. I noted in 2009 that there was already a group of devout and level headed Laity being attracted to the place… I transition/retire from the military next year and will visit for awhile and pray about the future.

    A Visit Our Lady of the Annunciation (Clear Creek) Monastery

    I was privileged to visit Our Lady of the Annunciation (Clear Creek) Monastery for a weekend in May 2009. This “Visitation” was, and remains, quite moving to me. Clear Creek is a daughter house of Fontgombault, France of the Solesmes Congregation. http://www.clearcreekmonks.org/. All services are in Latin. They follow the traditional weekly Psalter of the Benedictine Horarium. http://www.clearcreekmonks.org/horarium.htm

    The entire Chant is done extremely well and with much devotion. The Monks self correct and make a genuflection if they note an error in their privileged participation in Opus Dei the Work of God. The Office continues with attention and proper care.
    High Mass is beautiful and overwhelming, especially if you are not familiar with it. But… the most moving experience is daily Low Mass. All the priests perform their daily Low Mass at side altars with a server and any Laity who wish to assist (There is no con-celebration in the EF Mass). As you kneel at the side altars you must be careful not to bump the priest or server with your folded hands (you are that close). Many Laity remain in the Nave, where you are literally surrounded by the Holy Mass. 7-9 Masses are being said concurrently, Sota Voce. With 25-30 laity, present and 40 + monks all praying the Mass in silence, it was all rather moving and grace filled. At one point, I felt dumb struck, almost wounded by the weight of sudden Grace pressing in about me. I never knew silence could be so joyful, so tangible. The marvelous overshadow of that time remains most prescient with me. This only occurs in monasteries or religious houses that do the EF of the Mass. There is Low and High Mass everyday. Currently this beautiful liturgy is all performed in the poured concrete Crypt of the monastic church currently under construction.
    What is most striking about the monastery is the Laity that it attracts. A good number travel the dirt roads to attend daily offices. Many of the Laity attends on Sunday, so numerous that the monks offer substantial hospitality, coffee and doughnuts, etc. after Mass. Latin has a peculiar accent when pronounced reverently by Oklahomans adorned in dress Cowboy boots, Lariat and Bow string bow ties and cowboy hat in hand. There seems to be an unintentional but expected village popping up around the monastery. Something the monks believe is an organic development of their presence
    .
    The average age of the monks is young. Many of the Laity who travel the dirt roads to get there are also quite young. Their devotion and dedication in traveling the unpaved roads is most commendable and encouraging. At the age of 47, I was the old man! Male retreatants eat with the monks. They take their breakfast of milk and bread standing (monk’s bread with their local cow juice). Male Retreatants eat with the monks and can attend all the hours.
    There is a large statue of Our Lady in the Nave of the Crypt. All kneel to say an “Ave” or other devotion immediately upon entering. I thought this was a Carthusian tradition, perhaps it is French and Dom Gueranger maintained it at Solesmes? This custom and a number of other monastic traditions are lovingly kept and nurtured. I hope to return soon. Please pray for this foundation.

    PAX,

    Mark J. Kelly, KM

  4. JD

    Sam, how is life at Clear Creek? I was hoping this article would give an update.


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