Category Archives: Monasticism

Anger’s Result

Abba Peter, the disciple of Abba Lot, said, One day when I was in Abba Agathon’s cell a brother came in and said to him, “I want to live with the brethren; tell me how to dwell with them.” The old man answered him, “All the days of your life keep the frame of mind of the stranger which you have on the first day you join them, so as not to become too familiar with them.” The Abba Macarius asked, “And what does this familiarity produce?” the old man replied, “It is like a strong, burning wind, each time it arises everything flies swept before it, and it destroys the fruit of the trees.” So Abba Macarius said, “Is speaking too freely really as bad as all that?” Abba Agathon said, “No passion is as worse than an uncontrolled tongue, because it is the mother of all the passions.” Accordingly the good workman should not use it, even as he is living as a solitary in the cell. I know a brother who spent a long time in his cell using a small bed who said, “I should have left my cell without making use of that small bed if no one had told me it was there.” It is the hard-working Monk who is a warrior.

The brethren also asked Abba Agathon “Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?” He answered “Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him. For they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. What ever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.

The same Abba said “a man who is angry, even if he were to raise the dead, is not acceptable to God”

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The Time of Your Fervor

Many of the thoughts that I share are written at a coffee shop on Oak St. in New Orleans. There is nothing particularly inspiring about the shop. As a matter of fact, it is a bit run down and not the cleanest place in the world. In spite of that, the old shop has a special way of inspiring my thoughts. The reason is that it is an old bank building where my grandfather used to keep his Christmas Club account. Christmas Club accounts have gone out of vogue, but when I was growing up in the 1960’s they were very important. What is a Christmas Club? The Christmas Club is a savings program that was first offered by various banks in the United States during the Great Depression. The concept is that bank customers deposit a set amount of money each week into a special savings account and receive the money back at the end of the year for Christmas shopping. Because of that, every time I stepped into the old bank it was Christmas. I could try to imagine what I might get for Christmas. Somehow the old bank building still gives me a sense of Christmas. I am no longer six but in my sixties, but that old building still does something for me.

Anthony-of-Egypt-July-19Let me share some thoughts from one of my favorite desert monks today. Anthony of Egypt was the founder of the monastic movement. He fled to the desert to find peace with God. People from all over the known world traveled to see him and seek his wisdom. Here is a small portion of advice he give to a young monk, and just maybe to you as well.

“My son, do not stray away from God seeking what is perishable; but rather remember what you have decided in the time of your fervor, and do not forget the seal by which you were purified before. Remember the tears of repentance, and the prayers that were raised on your behalf, and flee from the evil thoughts lest you be lost. My son, leave your bed every night, and wet your bedclothes with your tears, and supplicate to the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, your renewal, and for help in the good deeds so that you may inherit His eternal heavenly kingdom.”

—Anthony of Egypt

When we turn from God and seek the perishable, we forget the seal of our purification. Our salvation was sealed by the sacrifice of Jesus. He put Himself forth for our sins and failures. He who knew no sin became sin. And why -for you and me. Those times when we pursue the perishable treasures of life we forget the wonderful grace of God. Grace purifies that which cannot be purified. There is no other formula by which we can approach God other than grace. The Christian must discern between the perishable and the seal of grace.

We are urged to take time to remember what life was like before God so that we can realize all that He does for us. We come to God through repentance from our rebellion. A truly repentant heart is a tearful one. The monk advises us to remember the tears (feeling) of that time. As we turn around to follow God we are compelled to acknowledge our failures and seek to be more like Him. The tears, literal and symbolic, are a sign of the reality of our confession of faith. Never forget them.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” These words were wisely written by the poet John Donne. Anthony advises us to remember the prayers that were and are offered for us so that we might keep on the right path. Perhaps nothing is more dangerous than forgetting the path that brought us to our present place. We must not forget our origin. That remembrance keeps us humble and allows us to grow. I cherish the prayerful support of all who journey with me. We all need to constantly be reminded that we are surrounded by evil, but we are also consumed in a blanket of prayer protection.

John-donne

May we spend our days in these remembrances that the wise monk sets forth.


Prayer

Now Lord, we set ourselves before you. We know from whence we came and the desolation of that place. That seal of salvation that you gave us is such a blessed gift which cannot be replicated or replaced. Our repentance is bathed in the tears of confession and our protection from evil is wrapped in a blanket of prayer. May we go through this day and everyday remembering these blessings.

Amen


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Fullness of Life

And the Lord as he seeks the one who will do his work among the throng of people to whom he makes that appeal, says again: Which of you wants to live to the full; who loves long life and the enjoyment of prosperity? And, if when you hear this you say, I do, God says to you: If you desire true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceit, turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things my eyes will be upon you and before you call upon my name I shall say to you: Behold, I am here. What could be more delightful, dearest brothers, than the voice of our Lord’s invitation to us? In his loving kindness he reveals to us the way of life.

—-Benedict of Nursia


Today I share a few thoughts from The Rule of Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino. Benedict’s main achievement is his “Rule of Saint Benedict” containing precepts for his monks. The Rule has a unique spirit of balance, moderation and reasonableness, and this persuaded most religious communities founded throughout the Middle Ages to adopt it. As a result, his Rule became one of the most influential religious rules in Western Christendom. For this reason, Benedict is often called the founder of western monasticism. Let me share a few thoughts from him about fullness of life.

Who wants to live a full life? The answer is everyone. The problem with fullness of life is where does it originate? Some would say that the key is to be rich or well educated, others would say it comes from being physically fit and strong.

Be honorable and truthful with your words.

Benedict admonishes us to be attentive God’s to call in order to keep our tongues from evil. An evil tongue constantly stirs trouble and wishes ill will to others. The evil tongue never stops looking for the negative in the lives of others. The evil tongue can be very truthful, but it uses truth as a sword to destroy rather than an instrument to build up. Such a tongue is dishonorable.

The second thought is to not be deceitful. In short, tell the truth and don’t make up tall tales to benefit yourself or bring down others. The truthful tongue builds you and all those you touch. Your words will outlive you and bless others.

Do Good

Doing good is the biggest challenge of our earthly existence. We are surrounded by schemes and schemers. The whole concept of Monasticism was to be free fJohn-Wesley-July-12rom the pressures of the world and grow closer to God. Good is first sought when we dedicate all that we have and that we are to God. John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” By putting Benedict and Wesley together we can broaden our hope for doing good in our lives. Doing good is a key element to any Christian journey, and I urge you to take some time to assess the good you do or can do.

Seek Peace and Practice It

Benedict said to “seek peace and pursue it.” I would assert that a person who seeks peace will find it and spend a life of peaceful practice. The first challenge is to dedicate our lives to finding peace. The ultimate peace is a sound relationship with God. Through that relationship all problems can be faced and many solved to our good. Without God we are on our own and fending for ourselves in a world that is far too complicated for us ever control. As we Jesus-july-12practice the peace of God we find that our problems far less complicated, our victories are sweeter and burdens lighter. Jesus said, ”Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” When we attach ourselves to the yoke of God we find His peace and that peace is one that we can practice with joy.

May we seek the life that God has laid up for us and pursue it with all our being.


Prayer

Lord instill in me the humility to seek you and the courage to find you. Allow me the strength to follow your lead and live a life that is beyond my imagination. I ask for the life that only you can provide. I ask for discernment this day and courage for each day that I follow you

Amen.

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Light in the Chapel

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A picture of the prayer chapel of the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai. St. Catherine’s is one of the oldest monasteries in the world.

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The Art of Keeping your Mouth Shout

A devout man happened to be insulted by someone, and he said to him, ‘I could say much to you, but the commandment of God keeps my mouth shut.”’ Again she said this, “A Christian discussing the body with a Manichean expressed himself in these words, “Give the body discipline and you will see that the body is for him who made it.”’

— Amma Theodora

I think we all believe in sacred silence, but the desert advice is a bit different. This sort of silence is as important to our Christian witness as prayer. In this silence we embody the “turning of the other check, going the second mile, doing unto others as you would have them do unto as you.” Those sayings and many other red letter words of Jesus are practiced by simply keeping our mouth shut.

We underestimate the importance of training our bodies so that we mayMark Twain 1 naturally function as God intended. We are made in the “image” of God and as we surrender our whole being to Him, He gives us the ability to do great things. Mark Twain said, ”The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the fellow who can’t read a line.” In that same vain, a person who does not control his body may as well be an animal who acts through raw instinct. The God stamp that dwells within us is our ability to think and reason and strive to change.

The wisdom of the desert tells us to practice the silence of the closed mouth and to discipline our bodies in a way to bring us to spiritual wholeness.

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Who Could it Be?

I heard a story  about a Russian Monastery that was dying and declining. The brothers were growing old, many had died. The villagers had stopped coming to visit the monastery. Young men were no longer interested in dedicated themselves to the Monastic order. This decline led to worry and the loss of hope led to bitterness. In desperation the abbot went to visit an old hermit we had heard about. He hoped that the old man might have some wisdom. The abbot arrived after a long journey and explained their problem to the hermit. The hermit prayed for the abbot but said nothing more. The two men sat in silence for a very long time and the abbot patiently waited to hear some word of hope – a blessing, a prophecy, just something simple to try. Finally the abbot could abide the silence no longer and he begged the hermit for an answer. The hermit replied, “I’m sorry, but there really isn’t anything I have to tell you. I don’t know what the future holds for the monastery. I am sorry – oh, but there is this – I believe that the Messiah is in your midst.” The Messiah?, thought the abbot. Among us at the monastery. He rushed back and reported the unexpected news and the brothers began to question, “Who is it?” “Who among us is the Messiah?” Surely not Bro. Nicolaus, he gripes too much. Surely not Bro. Stavros, he is so whiney. But what if …? And on it went.

Monk Praying in SunsetAnd in time as the brothers began to suppose that any one of them could be the Messiah, they began to treat each other with respect and kindness and love. That spirit extended into the village and rumors of the Messiah’s presence continued so that everyone began to wonder if their neighbor might be the Messiah. And though no one was ever identified as the Messiah, the monastery was thriving and the village was blessed and young men devoted themselves to the faith.

Since Jesus is with us always, then discipleship is on-going and it is everyday. It is not something for a special day or a special evening or a special program. It is the pulse of every moment lived in the kingdom of God.

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Everyday Contemplatives

There is a contemplative

in every one of us

nearly extinguished by the noise of the day

but still holding on in the hope of relief.

A contemplative craves quiet solitude,

longs for the enjoyment of God’s Now,

aching to touch the sacred silence that makes us whole.

Irvin J. Boudreaux

A Contemplative Pledge
In the early 21st century a monastery without walls, a monastery of the heart, a lay, ecumenical contemplative community is being born. We contemplatives are simply seekers of oneness with God. We remember what Jesus said,

“May all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.”

As brothers and sisters of this oneness we are gathering in a time when religion is going crazy, again, defining itself by who it judges as unworthy. In such a time we create an open table to invite all spiritual seekers to come into the shelter of an inclusive community, a home for all of us sinners and saints, a refuge for Americans who are wearied by a frantic culture and an overly busy church. In such a time of distress, we will teach each other how to find our inner sanctuary and we will learn to serve the world from that True Home together. We commit ourselves to the mission of creating contemplative communities who practice the presence of God for personal transformation and radical engagement with the world.

—– School for Contemplative Living

Few of you that read these words have a monastic cell, but all of us have to grab the time that fate allows to draw near to the heart of God. I share these words there is a small contribution to those who seek the contemplative life.

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Silence and Focus

Abba John the Dwarf was very fervent. Now someone who came to see him praised his work, and he remained silent, for he was weaving a rope. One again the visitor began to speak and once again he kept silence. The third time he said to the visitor, ‘Since you came here, you have driven away God from me.’

—– sayings of the desert

Prayer and closeness to God is important to all believers. We have been taught Silent Prayerfor centuries that silence is a very vital avenue to a close relationship to our Creator. Today we exist in a world of clutter, noise and interruptions. The men and women who went to the desert felt very much the same about their world. Their journey was to escape those distractions to have a deeper and closer relationship with God. People who don’t observe silence have a difficult time understanding and respecting those who do. This saying deals with that issue.

Abba John the Dwarf was focused in his work and prayer, the calling of a monk.(a Christian) The well-meaning visitor seemingly wanted to engage the monk through his compliment. He apparently had no sense that the way to truly engage the Abba was to join in his work and silence. In that apparent void was the presence of God. The continual “noise” drove God away. Through our conversation, our constant chatter, we crowd out the presence of God. Our challenge is simple. We must give God space in our lives. Don’t insist that God comes on your terms but rather take time to be silent enough for Him to sit beside you.

Prayer

Lord help me learn this lesson from the desert. Silence my lips and let me feel your presence. In my silence you fill the void instead of me filling my life so full that it crowds you out. Amen

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Finding God

Many people living secluded lives on the mountain have perished by living like people in the world. It is better to live in a crowd and want to live a solitary life than to live a solitary life but all the time be longing for company.

—-Amma Matrona

Many people yearn for a place apart, our own little corner of the cosmos where we can discover our true selves and touch the hand of God. Our first inclination is to “get away” to a place of solitude and surely God would be there. The wise desert mother tells us that solitude is first and foremost a matter of heart. Many people have sought to escape only to find that they are trapped by their own fallen nature no matter where they find themselves.

Woman in prayerWe all seek our Creator and feel that if we could just be relieved of the pressures, bothers and interferences of everyday life we would find Him. Not so says Amma Matrona. Solitude is a state of mind that begins long before we escape to our desert. The real key is to empty ourselves and allow that void to be filled by God. No amount of social interaction or physical isolation can bring us close to God. This is achieved as a matter of heart.

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Conflict and Controversy

A Brother said to Abba Mateos, ‘Give me a word.’ He said to him, ‘ restrain the spirit of controversy in yourself, in everything, and weep, have compunction, for the time is drawing near.’

—-Abba Mateos of the Desert

The wise Abba tells us to refrain from controversy. Our world is wrought with controversy, because it appears as though we thrive on our divisions. Governments, families, and churches all seem to have a great need to live in a state of conflict. Many people think that this postmodern world is the cause of this state of affairs, but here we see this man of the desert approaching this subject fourteen hundred years ago. He describes controversy as a “spirit,” which says to me that it is a real driving force that wraps itself around us and produces negative results.

conflictAbba Mateos’ advice to his fellow monks, and to us, is for us to have compunction. That is to allow our moral compasses to guide us in the situations that are given to us. Ultimately, it is our choice how we react to any event, statement or accusation. The challenge is to act as though the time to face our God was near. Mateos calls us to be in peace with those that disagree and hold to other beliefs. The compunction, moral code, of the Christian is to have a spirit of harmony. Just as Christ reconciled the world by suffering the cross we, as His followers, are called to stay away from controversy and to embrace His love. Let us strive to develop a spirit of compunction instead of a spirit of controversy.

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