Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Coming Clean

by Ann Cavera


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote an approximately twelve-thousand line poem, "Prussian Nights," while he served a sentence in a Gulag prison camp. He had neither pen nor paper. The rumor was, each morning he wrote a line or two on his bar of soap and memorized those lines while he washed. By the end of the day, the "evidence" of his writing had vanished, but the lines were permanently etched in his mind. Later he said having the poem to focus on helped him survive life in the camp. The point is, no matter how difficult life became, Solzhenitsyn could not deny his calling to write. He found a way to honor his vocation regardless of his circumstances.

His story reminded us of the Old Testament Book of Daniel. In the first part of the story, the chief eunuch replaced the Hebrew names of Daniel and his three young companions with names more familiar to Babylonian ears. Daniel's three companions became "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego." When the three refused to worship an idol, King Nebuchadnezzar had them tossed into a fiery furnace. Some scripture translations revert to using their original Hebrew names: Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael while they are in the middle of the fire. It's as though the fire stripped away everything false, revealing their true identities.

We seem to be living in a time when people have difficulty knowing who they really are. Many students heading off to college will try several majors hoping to find their vocation before they graduate. Every day, thousands of identities are "stolen" by people trying to appear to be someone else. Even children as young as three or four assume imaginary identities to play games. Trying on another identity is far easier as children than it is in middle age; though discovering a new identity deeper and truer than an old one can be a good thing at any age!    

Most of the readings for this month urge us to stay faithful to our identity in Christ. Beginning with the first Sunday we are reminded of the useless pursuit of vanity while we find two brothers squabbling over an inheritance. We move on to recalling the faith of Abraham and remembering poor Jeremiah who remained faithful in spite of much hardship. In the last two gospels of August Christ reminds all of us he never said staying faithful would be easy. 

The other day one of us picked up Thomas Merton's book "The Sign of Jonas" and began reading. Merton describes his daily life from sorting cards in the mail room to dealing with brother monks. To Merton, his days seemed quite ordinary. That's the way it is with most of us. We may find ourselves caring for elderly parents or small children or working to feed our families. We could be a priest shepherding a flock or a student praying for direction. Now and then in the middle of our ordinary days most of us will get tossed into the furnace of illness, unemployment, broken relationships and misunderstandings. Often, it isn't until we are in the furnace everything false gets stripped away, revealing who we are meant to be.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.