Tag Archives: Monasticism

The Whole World Is Our Cloister

Over the past several years I have been a real advocate of living a monastic life in the place that we are planted. For most of us it  is impossible to escape to a cloistered life. Benedictine Joan Chittister give us her offering in “Monasteries of the Heart.” We longed for peace and escape from the troubled world but are frustrated that we can’t quite pull it off. Joan Chittister offers some ways to accomplish that goal. The article below is offered to us by the Franciscan Richard Rhor and he tells his story. I share it with you today.

In the Franciscan worldview, the Christ can be found everywhere. Nothing is secular or profane. You don’t really “get” the Christ mystery until body and spirit begin to operate as one. Once you see the material and the spiritual working together, everything is holy. The Christ is whenever and wherever the material and the spiritual co-exist—which is always and everywhere! Everything is already “christened”; any anointing, blessing, declaring, or baptizing is just to help us get the point.

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on St. Francis’ break with historic monasticism. When his friars brought up well-established rules for religious life, Francis even went so far as to say “Don’t speak to me of Benedict! Don’t speak to me of Augustine!” [1] (No offence intended to Benedictines or Augustinians.) Francis believed that the Lord had shown him a different way, one which directly implied that the whole world—not just a single building—was our cloister. He did not need to create a sheltered space. We were to be “friars” instead of monks, living in the midst of ordinary people, in ordinary towns and cities. Franciscan friaries are still usually in the heart of major European and Latin American cities. We didn’t live on the edge of town because Christ is found as much in the middle of civilization as is in quiet retreats and hermitages.

Franciscan theologian Bonaventure (1221-1274) soon debated “secular priests” at the University of Paris, because some of them felt that putting together action and contemplation would not work. We became competitors for the affection of the people, I am afraid. Up until Francis of Assisi (1184-1226), most religious had to choose either a life of action or a life of contemplation. Secular priests worked with people in the parishes. The “true” religious went off to monasteries. Francis said there had to be a way to do both.

It’s as if consciousness wasn’t ready to imagine that it could find God in any way except by going into the desert, into the monastery, away from troubles, away from marriage, away from people. In that very real sense, we see a non-dual mind emerging with the Franciscan movement.

Perhaps you can find a place, interior or exterior that will allow you to cloister and moved towards God. Get in the middle of thing and experience the blessing.


PRAYER

Lead me from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.

Lead me from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.

Lead me from hate to love,
from war to peace.

Let peace fill my heart,
my world, my universe.

Amen.

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How to Find Peace?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

—- Philippians 4:7-9

There were two old men who dwelt together for many years and who never quarreled. Then one said to the other: “Let us pick a quarrel with each other like other men do.” “I do not know how quarrels arise,” answered his companion. So the other said to him: “Look, I will put a brick down here between us and I will say ‘This is mine.’ Then you can say ‘No it is not, it is mine.’ Then we will be able to have a quarrel.” So they placed the brick between them and the first one said: “This is mine.” His companion answered him: “This is not so, for it is mine.” To this, the first one said: “If it is so and the brick is yours, then take it and go your way.” And so they were not able to have a quarrel.

—-Sayings of the Desert

Recently I was teaching a Bible study group and said the best decision I ever made was to keep politics out of my ministry. A person quickly replied that as long as I was a pastor of a church I would be involved in politics. I was of course thinking of secular politics, but the point hit hard. We as Christians have surrendered to the idea that political conflict is an unavoidable part of the church. Yes, decisions have to be made and people will naturally not all think the same, but do we really all have to have it our way?

The quintessential question for the church is: are we doing church our way or God’s way?

The two old Monks had lived a life of harmony for many years. Because of theirPeace1 commitment to Christ they had not lived as others had lived. Heaven forbid, they had not had a quarrel. Their plan was to find something to quarrel about. The brick was picked and the quarrel was supposed to ensue, but it did not. Why? The simple answer is that if we put others first we won’t have anything to argue about. That is quite a novel idea for our society.

Years before that Paul was writing to the church at Philippi, and they were obviously in a struggle. His advice was to see the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. God’s peace is honorable and good. Such a peace seeks out things to praise, and majors on what is good. God’s peace never seeks to be selfish or grudging. Our challenge is to look at the story from the desert and from Paul and make it our story. Perhaps if we spent some time trying to live as peacemakers, we could find more fulfillment than we ever imagined. I will pray every day that God will allow the church to escape the politics and conflict of the world and be truly a sanctuary for all who enter its doors.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Prayer

Lord allow us to be first and foremost a peacemaker. Help us to understand that all conflict comes from our need to control. When we encounter controlling people give us the patience and grace to hold our tongue and allow you to do your work. We pray for this elusive gift of your peace, Lord. May we receive it today.

Amen

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Missing Letter “R”

A young monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned
to helping the other monks in copying the old canons
and laws of the church, by hand.

He notices, however, that all of the monks are
copying from copies, not from the original manuscript.
So, the new monk goes to the Old Abbot to question
this, pointing out that if someone made even a smallimage
error in the first copy, it would never be picked up!
In fact, that error would be continued in all of
the subsequent copies.

The head monk, says, “We have been copying
from the copies for centuries, but you make a
good point, my son.”

He goes down into the dark caves
underneath the monastery where the original
manuscripts are held as archives,
in a locked vault that hasn’t
been opened for hundreds of years.

Hours go by and nobody sees the Old Abbot.
So, the young monk gets worried and goes down to look for him.
He sees him banging his head against the wall and wailing.

“We missed the R! We missed the R!
We missed the bloody R!”
His forehead is all bloody and bruised and he is crying uncontrollably.
The young monk asks the old Abbot, “What’s wrong, father?”

With a choking voice, the old Abbot replies,

“The word was …
CELEBRATE!”

(The origin of this story is unknown to me)

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Pleasing God

Someone asked Abba Anthony, “What must one do in order to please God?” The old man replied, “Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes, whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

—–Antony of Egypt

ALWAYS HAVE GOD BEFORE YOUR EYESanthony_egypt

This statement begs the question, how do we always have God before our eyes? God is before our eyes when we worship and pray. The monk is telling us that our lives should be bathed in worship and prayer. In these practices we can find the face and heart of God.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT ACCORDING TO THE TESTIMONY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

The Psalmist writes, children sing -“the Bible is a lamp unto my and a light unto my path.” The monk advises that this simple instruction is one of the keys to pleasing God. Today’s world seems to have neither light or path. Antony steers us to the lighted path of Holy Scripture.

WHATEVER PLACE YOU LIVE DO NOT EASILY LEAVE IT.

Monks call this one stability. Our transient, temporary society is floundering for lack of stability. Marriages crumble, jobs are abandoned, work goes unfinished, all because we are not willing to commit ourselves to being in for the long haul. Pleasing God requires that we develop stay power – the type that settles us in long enough to walk through the valley that precedes the mountain.

The words of this monk of old can take us a long way today.

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First Love

Kathleen Norris wrote a wonderful book called, Dakota. It is a book of meditation and devotion. People now take notice of her. In another writing she talked about her spiritual pilgrimage. She said she was raised in the Church. Then in young adulthood, like so many, she left the Church. Now, in middle age, she has come back to the Church through an experience that she had in a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota.

There she experienced the spiritual discipline of the Monastic order called lectio continuo, which means, sitting and listening to the reading of scripture. It changed her life, she said. It was an epiphany. It came to her when she was listening to the reading of the Revelation to John. At the beginning of the Book of Revelation, John addresses the churches. He says to Ephesus, “God has this against you, that you have abandoned the love that you had at first.”

Norris wrote this. “These are words of conversion, taking hold they can change a life. ‘You have abandoned the love you had at first.’ When I first heard them in the monk’s choir, tears welled up in me, unexpected and unwelcome. I remembered how completely I had loved God and church as a child, and how easily I had drifted away as a young adult.”

“You have abandoned the love you had at first.”

She continued. “Somehow the simple magic of having the Bible read aloud to me opened my eyes to recognize the extent I had allowed the resistance of the world to shake my faith. A secular world view, terribly sophisticated, but of little use to me in the long run, had taken hold of me. Consequently I had allowed the fire to die down in my heart. In the Benedictine choir I allowed John’s words to wash over me, and my full sense of the sacredness of the world returned, and I had begun to listen as a child again.”

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The Bitter Conflict

We are caught in a bitter conflict between flesh and spirit. Jesus has delivered us from sin, but not from the weaknesses and desires of the flesh. We have to reproduce in our life the Cross of Christ so that, have died sacramentally to sin in baptism, we may also put to death sin in our flesh by restraining our evil desires and bad tendencies. This is the basis of monastic asceticism. (Or the Christian walk)

—-Thomas Merton from Basic Principles of Monastic Spirituality

There is not one among us who has not felt the tug of war caused by the conflict of flesh and spirit. This conflict of soul lives in everyone, and the battle rages with little relief. As we face this reality and own it, the conflict takes on a new aspect. The acknowledgement of our fleshly weaknesses allows us to turn to the spirit that is promised by Jesus. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.(John 14:26) Through this spirit we can achieve small victories over our desires, but we have to work at it, and be vigilant.

Prayer young manMerton points to a very important, and the often neglected reality of sacramental grace. Through our baptism the community lift us up so that we might die to sin. That grace is an important tool in our battle with the flesh, and one that should not be neglected. When the congregation (community) says, “-we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith-” that pledge is the communion of saints in action. We must never abandon the strength that can be garnered from the sacramental community.

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Crossing The River

boy-carrying-girlTwo monks, Tanzan and a younger monk, were walking down a muddy street in the city. They came on a lovely young girl dressed in fine silks, who was afraid to cross because of all the mud.

“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan. And he picked her up in his arms, and carried her across.

The two monks did not speak again till nightfall. Then, when they had returned to the monastery, the young monk couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

“Monks are not suppose to go near young girls,” he said “certainly not beautiful ones like that one! Why did you do it?”

“My dear fellow,” said Tanzan. “I put that girl down back in the city. It’s you who are still carrying her.”

For the young monk, and for many of us, crossing the river can be the hardest task that we ever face. We find it exceedingly difficult to put something down, or to allow a difficult task to be in the past. Like the young monk we carry the burden far past the decision.


Prayer Starter – Lord release me for worry and anxiety today, and allow me to cross the river.

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Some Advice About Living

It was said of Abba Theodore of Pherme that three things he held to be fundamental were: poverty, asceticism, flight

from men.

He also said, ‘The man who remains standing when he repents, has not kept the commandment.’

—–Sayings of the Desert

The advice from the monk is to have your life characterized by some fundamental attitudes that lead us closer to God. He goes on to tell us that true repentance is manifested in outward humility. The words poverty and asceticism can be summed up by just saying that we are called to a life of simplicity. This type of simplicity allows us to put God first in our lives. Such a simplicity keeps us away from many temptations. Those that live the simple life are generous, compassionate and without greed or envy. The expression “flight from men “can be summed up by saying, put aside the things of the world and spend time with God. This life is designed to keep us constantly distracted and occupied with the things of the world. Such a state of affairs gives us little time for the things of God. We all want to get to a place where we find peace and harmony with ourselves and the rest of the world. That was the Abba’s goal and ours, too.

Striving towards that simplicity demands repentance, not just a casual confession, but true repentance. That repentance is one of depth and conviction, and it brings about conversion. Such a conversion will affect us greatly.  There are too many professing Christians who can simply “remain standing” surrounded by their sin. All of us are called to a repentance and conversion of heart that brings us to our knees, helpless without the grace of God.

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Peace

Abba Poeman

Abba Poeman

 “If you take little account of yourself, you will have peace wherever you live.”

 —-Abba Poeman

 

Over inflated egos are an ancient problem. Abba Poeman gives us these simple words from his desert monastery fourteen hundred years ago. If we are to take little account of ourselves, we must develop a sense of self that is beyond our earthly reach. My world, your world, is dominated by goals and ambitions to further quality of life. This is not wrong in and of itself, but it must be tempered by acknowledging that all comes from the Lord God.

 There are countless stories of people living lives plagued by self-doubt and restlessness, and all of their pain is rooted in their own self-gratification. They move from place to place, relationship to relationship, and job to job searching for that perfect place of peace. The key to peace is knowing who we are in the sight of God. He created us for good. He created us in His image, and yes, He wants us to live in peace. Such a peace is found when we offer ourselves to Him. In offering ourselves to Him, we become smaller to the things of the earth and larger to the things of heaven.

 Give it some thought. Begin to see yourself as a child of God and not a child of man. This transition could give you abundant peace.

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Give Your Heart

Abba Poeman

Abba Poeman

He also said, ‘Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

—–Abba Poeman of the Desert

We miss so much of life because we are not following our hearts. From a very early age we are taught that the longings of our hearts are selfish and should be suppressed. I am a believer that we all have some special something that we can give heart and soul to. This something is a gift from God that satisfies our heart in a marvelous way. Far too many people spend their lives in meaningless toil and misery because they do not seek the deep desires of their heart.

Though Abba Poeman advice is over a thousand years old, it still speaks to us. Our world is full of people in unhappy marriages, jobs, and all other sort of contentious activities. These less than satisfying endeavors of the heart lead to depression and anxiety. Just imagine how much better your life would be if we sought the desires of your heart. Most of us cannot just abandon our present lives and go seeking some Shangri-La, but we can take a heart centered look at what we are doing.

What am I giving my heart to today?

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