Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Gift of Gnats

I've recovered from last week's bout of feeling badly done to and I'm ready to start with some zest on my series of blogs about the monastic promises. I'm going to begin with the promise which is currently translated as "fidelity to the monastic way of life" and in the past as "conversion of life". In the Latin of Benedict's Rule, the phrase is "conversatio morum", which is difficult to render precisely. What is important to grasp is that it does not  imply a one-off conversion, but a repeated effort to change, to grow, to live more deeply into the mystery of God. I decided to begin with this promise because last week's blog is an example of conversatio (as it's often referred to) in action.

Let me explain. Conversatio is about taking the daily, the routine, all the events of our lives, big and small (mostly small) and allowing the Spirit to work through them to draw us closer to God. Living in community is difficult. Being a monastic is difficult. You are with people most of the time. They don't always behave as you'd prefer. You live under obedience which, as we'll see in the obedience blog, doesn't mean you are voiceless, but it does mean you have to be able to relinquish control and live fully, not grudgingly, into situations and with decisions that you would not necessarily have made. You can look at these situations and be irritated, like I was last week, or you can accept them and choose to allow yourself to let their hugeness go, see them in perspective and come to understand that, in the eyes of God, they are not significant. The events are not significant in themselves; how you respond is.

When I was novice and I was very exercised by a number of issues, a sister gave me this piece of advice: Monastic life is like walking through a cloud of gnats. If you stop to swat each gnat you will never get anywhere. You just have to keep walking through them. It's true. You have to keep your eyes fixed on the goal, which is God. You have to keep persevering toward that goal, and not be distracted from it by the gnats, which at times can form a thick cloud of "I don't likes" and "I don't agrees". It's also true, though, that if you keep walking, persevering, eventually it pays off and you realize, for a blessed moment, that you are actually making some headway, and the gnats are, in fact, opportunities for grace: the daily happenings which bring about your transformation, if you approach them right. That's the gift of gnats. Of course, a new set of gnats arrives and the process repeats... and repeats... and repeats...

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