Wednesday, June 27, 2012
One happy day, the thought crossed my mind that there was God, all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, and here was little me, with none of those attributes, and exactly how hard was God going to make it for me? I steer clear of descriptions of God because our human perception and vocabulary can't describe the Infinite, but I do feel confident to say that God is not petty. This enables me to see my prayer life simply. Simplicity is the key. Everything about God is simple. We make the complications. We erect the barriers. Often that's a defence, because identifying complexity often means being able to argue that I would do what I think God is asking, but..., when God is actually suggesting simply that I DO IT.
This insight has really freed me in my personal prayer life. Sometimes I talk to God one on one (this includes complaining, asking, questioning, expressing gratitude, being angry, etc.); sometimes I just sit in silence and let whatever happpens happen: I let myself be in God. If my mind drifts, I offer the drift to God. In the last few years, I have re-discovered the value of devotional prayers, such as the rosary. I don't think God scores me on how I approach my prayer. I feel the important thing, as in so many aspects of life, is perseverance: keep on praying even when it's hard, when it's dry, when there is no answer. The purpose of my prayer is to help me enter more closely into the divine mystery and that means, frequently, praying into the darkness.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
It seems as if everyone has a view about what the promise of monastic obedience means. Usually it's seen as doing what you are told, and it's often implied that, in order to promise it, you have to be the kind of person who is unquestioning and quite happy to give up thinking for themselves. Well, it's not like that at all.
Firstly, it's important to see all the monastic promises as being made in the context of free will. As a consenting, adult person, I am choosing this life. I am choosing to make these promises. I shall make them publicly on July 11, but every day of my life thereafter I shall be consciously recommitting myself to the choice and the promise. So, I am always freely obedient.
Secondly, monastic obedience isn't merely doing what you are told. It is not about being asked to suspend your intelligence and judgment. Essentially, it is about mutual listening. So, for example, if you are asked to take on a new ministry, the question would only be put to you after the prioress or superior had prayerfully considered what the community needed and who might be the person to fulfill that need. The sister would then, in turn, be asked to discern the matter. The possibility exists to explain why you think this might not be a good fit, and to ask for it to be reconsidered. What I'm trying to show here is that monastic obedience is interactive and inter-personal. It's seminal to our life in community, which is underpinned by love and respect for the other. Therefore, it's not intended to negate anyone, but to enable the possibilities that flow from learning not to put ourselves first.
Finally, it's important to remember that, ultimately, our obedience is to God, and that always means taking a risk. In answering this call to make perpetual profession, I am certain that I am accepting an invitation from God and, in that sense, I think I'm right to do it. I'm right ... but in the dark. I don't know where it will lead, I don't know what the final outcome will be. But I am prepared to be obedient to it, trusting in God that all shall be well: that through stability in the way of life, daily trying consciously to turn my life toward God (conversatio) and being obedient to what I hear God asking of me, I will become increasingly aware of the divine mystery permeating all creation.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
So, what is the underlying meaning of the promise of stability? When I make this promise, I will understand that I commit myself to a way of life which is ordered by the Rule of Benedict. I will commit myself to this community, following the Rule, under the prioress elected by the community. In making this commitment, I don't have a guarantee that I will never live anywhere other than the motherhouse at Saint Benedict's Monastery. I could be asked to serve elsewhere but, in doing so, I would remain stable in my commitment because I would be serving (under obedience) where the community felt I was most needed. My commitment isn't to the place, but to the community, the way of life and, ultimately, to God.
The monastic promises flow into one another. It isn't really accurate to view them separately because they are three aspects of one commitment: the search for God. My promise of stability means that I commit myself in the long term to living Benedictine monastic life. Far from that meaning I will not change, it means that I commit myself to a way of life which will me enable to grow and to become more aware of God as I live into the other promises of fidelity to the monastic way of life (conversatio) and obedience. One of the ways, I have found it most helpful to characterize stability is to look at it as stability of purpose. It's been noticeable to me in these weeks since I was accepted by Chapter that, with one or two blips, it's been a very good feeling to be this side the request, but that my life, as I live it out daily, hasn't changed markedly. This is reassuring because it affirms that I haven't simply been jumping through hoops these past five years: I've really been committing to living the way of life I'm going to live for the rest of my life. This doesn't guard me from the normal ups and downs of life. I'm still going to experience life as an ordinary person, with an ordinary person's reactions, but through all, however I am feeling, will run the thread of stability which roots me in my primary purpose in choosing this way of life: seeking God.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Monastic poverty is not about destitution. The Gospel does not tell us that it is a good thing to live in abject poverty. Indeed, destitution like this hampers the search for God because we become totally focused on our immediate physical needs. Monastic poverty has two aspects: moderation and common ownership. As you might expect of an aspect of conversatio, poverty is something you have to work at, to choose each day what is enough and what is surplus to need. Those choices are made in a context of complete dependency on the monastery for everything. So, for instance, those working in compensated employment outside the monastery do not take their own salary; it goes into a common pot from which each woman is given according to her need. It also means that not everyone receives exactly the same because each woman is an individual and needs vary. Monastic poverty is thus a way of ensuring that needs are met in a spirit of moderation and the community bond is enhanced because none of us owns anything privately and we each depend on the others for what we have.
Chastity is not the same as celibacy. A married couple is chastely married if they remain faithful to one another and to the marriage vows. Celibate chastity, which is what monastics promise, means that monastics don't marry and refrain from sexual activity. We don't make this promise in a spirit of negation, but as a positive choice to channel our sexual energy in a different way. We love and we have deep relationships. Healthy people need to love and be loved; healthy monastics are no different in this respect. The intention behind celibate chastity is not to stop us having friendships or establishing bonds of trust and love with others, but to enable an intentional focus on building a loving relationship with God. This, in turn, will fuel loving relationships with others and, at its finest, generate love for the whole of creation.