Tag Archives: Order of Saint Benedict

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Francis of Assisi, Richard Rhor

Contemplative Prayer

I was directed to these 6 tips on Contemplative prayer by a fellow blogger. They were written by Carol Crumley who is Senior Program Director for Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. St. Benedict, a sixth century spiritual leader, advised his monks to “listen with the ear of the heart,” that is, to listen deeply, noticing the many ways God spoke to them in their daily activities as well as through scripture and worship. I share these 6 tips with you.

6 Tips on Contemplative Prayer

1. Establish a daily set-aside time when you can honor your desire to open to God. We recommend 20 minutes of silent prayer time daily. For some that might seem like a long time. For others, it may be way too short. The exact number of minutes is not that important. Start with what is right for you. The important thing is doing it daily.

Thomas-Merton-4.4.162. Create a set-aside place, a space that honors your intent, where you can sit comfortably and uninterrupted for your prayer time. This might be a prayer corner or even a prayer chair. If a chair, just make sure it is different from the one you sit in to watch television, work on your computer or take a nap. A different chair will help you be more alert and attentive in your prayerful listening. You might also place a candle or flower or image in your prayer space, something that helps draw your focus to God’s presence.

3. Begin with stretching and releasing any physical tensions. We carry the tensions of the day or night in our bodies. Notice the places in your body that are tight or constricted. Stretch into those places, hold for a moment or two, and then relax the tension. Sometimes a gentle body-stretching practice is all that is needed to quiet the mind and prepare the body for opening in prayer.

4. Notice your breath. Your breath is a spiritual tool that you always have with you. It is your most intimate connection with God. Sense your breath as a living instrument of God’s spirit, ever cleansing and inspiring. At any time or place, you can notice your breath. Is it rapid or slow? Shallow or deep? Just noticing and slowing your breath can quiet the mind and draw you deeper into the heart of God. It is the most fundamental practice in the spiritual life.

5. Open to God’s living presence, keeping your desire for your own and the world’s fullness in God before you in prayer. No words are needed. Simple, quiet openness and availability are enough. Trust that God’s healing, transforming power is at work whether you know it, you believe it, or not.

6. Find support for your spiritual life. Support can come in many forms. Listen to music that stirs your soul. Go to a museum and feast your eyes on great art. Walk in nature. Read some of the great classics by contemplative authors. Study the lives of the saints. Find a spiritual director who listens with you to the movement of the Spirit in your life. Attend worship services that nourish your spiritual heart. Seek out others who share a similar desire and join with them for dedicated times of prayer.

We live in a noisy, busy world. Quiet, silent prayer is counter to our culture and yet it offers the missing spiritual resource our souls need. Contemplative prayer is not just for ourselves alone. Eckhart Tolle reminds us that, “To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer to the universe.”

Contemplative Prayer is a way of being rather than something that we do, a way of being open to God all the time. As you return to your busy day, remember, there are no right ways or wrong ways to pray. You can trust whatever is simplest and feels most natural for you.

3 Comments

Filed under Contemplation, Prayer

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Christian Living, Monasticism

The Devil Made Me Do It

“What am I to do, Abba, since passions and demons beset me?” a young monk asked the holy Abbot.

“Do not say that you are bothered by demons, child,” answered the elder, “because the greater part of us are beset by our own evil desires.”

——Sayings of the Desert

Flip Wilson was a quite popular stand-up comedian of the 60’s and 70’s whose trademark phrase was “the devil made me do it.” His catch phase served as an excuse for any type of outrageous behavior. Those words became very popular and were used by many to excuse their own behavior. Flip Wilson knew the expression was just a joke, but this expression is hidden in each of us. They are an unrelenting desire to pass responsibility along to someone or something else.

youngmonk_at_prayer2The wise Abba is confronted by the very same concept by a young monk. This young brother couldn’t possibly see that he was largely responsible for his our behavior. His Abba correctly instructed him to start with himself, and in doing so he would find victory over the demons. This approach holds a very profound lesson for us. Transformation begins with me.

My favorite pop philosopher, Jimmy Buffet, says it all in his signature song – Margaritaville. After three verses of decrying his plight with the words “there must be someone to blame,” the final verse says, “its my own d**n fault.

OURS IS THE GREATER PART

Related articles

3 Comments

Filed under Desert Fathers, Sin

A Monastic Habit

Note: This is another story from my old friend Becket. I just couldn’t resist this one because he speaks of his relationship with Brother George. That make it special to me because George and I have known each other since high school. I am using a pcture that shows all of us when we had just finished a day at the bakery.

By Becket

In the monastery we were encouraged to have a hobby. Developing a hobby was as important as delving fully into our Benedictine motto: Work and prayer. Work in the monastic life was for the monastery. Prayer was for others. But a hobby was for you, and you alone. An avocation that reflected your vocation. In other words, hobbies brought a human element to the monastic life. A healthy outlet to simply be yourself.

Brother Cadfael started a small vineyard. Father Dominic enjoyed archeology and taxidermy. Abbot Justin had a small green house and he grew a lovely garden. Father Augustine enjoyed bird watching, and he jokingly referred to himself as an “ornitheologist.”

For several months I looked for “my” monastic hobby.

I tried working in the haberdasher shop with Father Ambrose. He showed me how to measure and cut cloth. He showed me how to sew with machine or needle and thread. He was patient and kind.

It was good work. But it was not my hobby.

The abbey sits on 14,000 acres of land. One day I went walking toward the dense woods. I passed the retreat house and the bakery. I passed the early 19th century houses where slaves once lived, long before the monastery bought the land. Finally I came to a large barn where the first monks raised livestock for their daily sustenance.

The barn was large. It had once been red, but the paint was faded and peeling off. Mostly it was being used for storage.

The barn door was locked.

I could peer within and see the shadows of a hobby waiting to happen.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

At that moment, Brother George happened to be passing by. He asked me if I’d like to see inside.

Brother George was the monastic accountant. He was a burly man, over 6 feet tall. His size made him seem intimidating. Some brothers feared asking him for pittance.

But he was a born and bred New Orleanian from the Ninth Ward. Brother George wore his happiness over his monastic habit. Same with his sorrow. You knew where you stood with him by his expression.

That day his cheerful face told me good news: He knew where the key was.

Together we got it and unlocked the barn.

Inside was a treasure trove of forgotten furniture and unfinished projects.

Brother George reminisced how he had once worked in there. How he used to build furniture and coffins.

Why did he stop?

“When your work life loses your prayer life,” he said, “you forget how to be happy.”

I asked him if he’d like to work in the barn again.

His cheerful expression grew even more cheerful. That surprised me.

He and I spent the next few weeks clearing a work place in the barn. Much wood had warped in the Louisiana humidity. But some wood was still good.

Together we separated the good wood from the bad. We began dreaming about what we should build.

It had to be simple. It had to be something for other people.

It had to be a three-peg clothes rack, we decided in the end.

You see: Our monastic cells were simple. Older monks had a closet, a toilet and shower, a desk and chair, and a bed. Younger monks had all that – minus a toilet and shower. Ours was communal.

But none of our cells had a clothes rack.

Brother George and I designed one to fit perfectly on the back of the doors.

A professional carpenter would have laughed to see us. But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t our profession. It was our hobby. It was good work that reflected who we were far beyond our monastic habits, in the secret chambers of our very human hearts.

We wanted to be like a carpenter from Nazareth. We were children all over again.

Brother George and I set our finished product before the other monastic brothers. They liked our clothes rack so much that we had several commissions.

Soon our work in the barn attracted the attention of Brother Cyril. He wasn’t interested in building clothes racks, although he was searching for a hobby that he could also give back to the brothers.

Brother Cyril began building coffins.

His designs were elegant simplicity: An oblong wooden box for a believer in the resurrection from death.

Brother Martin was buried in one. So were Father Dominic and Brother Gabriel. So were several other brothers. Soon the barn became the carpentry shop. More coffins were made. So were more clothes racks. And many other projects.

Eventually I had to go to school for my MA. I couldn’t work in the carpentry shop any longer. I had to leave my hobby behind to prepare for my future work.

Even now, years after I’ve left the monastery, they’re still making coffins.

The abbey just won a major lawsuit against the state, giving them the right to sell coffins commercially.

I am happy for them.

Yet I cannot forget the condition of the carpentry shop during my novitiate. It had been an old barn. Nothing more. A locked up, forgotten barn. Within which was a shadow of my hobby.

Leave a comment

Filed under Benedict of Nursia, Monasticism

A Monk’s Story Part 5

 

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pop...

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pope Paul VI during Vatican II named Mary Mother of the Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

For those new to this page, I have been sharing about my life before I started working for Anne Rice.

 

Anne and I met while I was in a monastery in New Orleans.

 

I was a Benedictine monk for several years.

 

In the last post I shared with you how I made my temporary vows, received the black habit of the Benedictines, and received my monastic name, Becket.

 

Now I’d like to share with you what happened right after that…

 

In most romance stories there’s the courtship and the marriage and then the honeymoon.

 

For many, once the honeymoon ends, the story ceases to be a romance. It becomes a drama.

 

I wish that I could say the monastic life was without drama. But that would be to say that there had been no romance with it either.

 

Yes, before I became a monk, I had a romance with the monastic life. I saw the flowing robes of the black monastic habits, I heard the chanting of the choir monks, and I smelled the good incense wafting in billows throughout the cavernous church.

 

Yes, the monastic life is beautiful, in the same way any marriage or partnership can be beautiful, especially when each person sincerely desires to be united in love.

 

After I made my temporary vows, after I gained my monastic name and donned my new habit, I soon realized one important truth: The monastery wasn’t a museum of heavenly saints. It was a hospital for broken men.

 

And I was a part of them. Indeed I was broken.

 

Still am.

 

Were good men in the monastery?

 

Yes.

 

Did hurtful things happen there?

 

Yes.

 

The monastery, I soon realized, was a microcosm of the world.

 

We were perfectly imperfect men devoting ourselves to prayer and to the great struggle of loving one another with the affection of brothers.

 

After I became an official monk, I received new work.

 

Once a week I had to serve as porter, greeting guests and answering phones.

 

Or I had to ring the church bells for each prayer service.

 

Or I had to serve as waiter at lunch and supper.

 

Or I had to wash dishes.

 

Or I had to read books during meals while my brother monks ate in silence — all of which are more facets of monastic life that I hope to share with you soon.

 

But the honeymoon of monastic life didn’t end there. That was only work.

 

The drama of monastic life began when I had to learn to get along with someone I didn’t like, yet had to love.

 

Brother Simon and I did not get along, at least not at first.

 

From where I stood, he didn’t seem to have any sincere desire to be a part of the monastery.

 

As I’ve written in previous posts, the monastery has specific times for prayer. It’s our horarium. Laudes is the hour for Morning Prayer. Vespers is the hour for Evening Prayer. We have predawn prayer and nighttime prayer and mass.

 

During each of those times, I began the nasty habit of watching Brother Simon because he wasn’t paying attention to the prayers.

 

He was looking around at all the paintings in the church, and at the gorgeous architecture, and at the magnificent pipe organ, and at anything but his choir book.

 

I could not understand how anyone would want to be a monk yet at the same time seem so irreverent.

 

I brought my grievances to my spiritual director, Father Ambrose. It was supposed to be my time for spiritual direction. But I was squandering it as a chance to gripe about Brother Simon, who I thought should leave the monastery.

 

“My life would be better if he left,” I said.

 

Father Ambrose was patient and kind with me. His wise and wizened face smiled. He scratched his long white beard. He thought before he spoke. Like all sagacious men, he only needed to tell me a few words.

 

With his few words, he reminded me that I didn’t know what was in Brother Simon’s heart. My brother might be paying attention to prayer, just not in the same way that I pay attention.

 

With his few words, Father Ambrose reminded me that I might be just as guilty as my brother. Brother Simon might not be watching his choir book. But neither was I. I was watching him watch other things.

 

Here are the few words that Father Ambrose spoke to me:

 

“If you’re not bothered by Brother Simon, you’re going to be bothered by someone else.”

 

I was shaken like never before.

 

These words caused in me a cascade of thought, helping me realize that everyone is bothered by someone.

 

It’s a part of human nature.

 

But Father Ambrose continued helping me see that human nature also has a surprising capacity to transcend brotherly hate.

 

At that moment I understood: That’s what it meant to be a monk.

 

Being a monk wasn’t only about the work of prayer. I was supposed to be working what I’d learned in prayer.

 

I had been unjustly judging Brother Simon. I was looking at the outside of the man, yet I wasn’t searching for the interior life of the monk.

 

You see, not all monks are the same. We were simply men who had one important common bond: We have a deep interior life that searches for an existential truth by means of work and prayer.

 

We worked together. We prayed together.

 

Yet sometimes we struggled to be in the same church together.

 

The thing that kept us working together and praying together was our long-term goal of discovering truth along the pathway of self-discovery and self-sacrifice.

 

The more we discovered about ourselves, the more we were challenged to sacrifice.

 

Father Ambrose had handed to me a profound helping of self-discovery. Now it was time for self-sacrifice.

 

So, Brother Simon and I talked.

 

That’s all.

 

It was all that needed to happen.

 

Brother Simon and I communicated our struggles. We shared our fears and our hopes and the things that confused us. Most importantly, we listened to one another.

 

Today Brother Simon heads the media department at the monastery.

 

It took some time, but I have come to admire him greatly. He has excellent taste in the visual arts. He’s a wonder with Photoshop.

 

And today, if I’m in insufferable traffic, or if I’m behind a penitentially slow person in the supermarket checkout, or if I’m struggling to like the person sitting next to me, I recall Brother Simon, and Father Ambrose’s lesson…

 

If I’m not bothered by this person, I’m going to be bothered by someone else.

 

I can’t rid myself of temptations to hate. That would be impossible. Temptations are natural. Hate is natural.

 

But sacrificing my “self” is also a natural action.

 

In the same way I chose to start seeing the inside of Brother Simon, I try to see the heart of the brother or sister beside me.

 

Does it expunge the temptation to hate?

 

No. But it does diminish it enough for me to work with kindness and patience.

 

Do I always succeed?

 

Certainly not.

 

But the purpose of my life isn’t to be pure perfection. It’s to accept myself as a perfectly imperfect person, struggling to surrender.

 

What am I surrendering to?

 

A truth that I’m still trying to accept: I don’t know everything.

 

But I know enough to be kind.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Christian Journey, Christian Living, Church Conflict, Monasticism

A Monk’s Story Part 1

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery and to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

A Monk’s Story Part 1

by Becket

 Some here have asked about my life before meeting Anne Rice, namely from what I’ve shared previously — that I was a monk.

If you’re interested in it, here’s some of the story:

In 1997 I moved to New Orleans. I had been a fan of Anne’s for years, having read her books in high school. I remember the first time I walked down St. Charles Ave., with the streetcar passing by, the old double gallery houses, and the branches of the large oak trees canopying over the Garden District. My first thought was: Lestat hurtled down this road on a motorcycle, listening to Bach’s Art of Fugue through a Walkman. I was agog at the magic of that ancient and beautiful city.

New Orleans’ spiritual heritage encouraged my eagerness to grow closer to God.

I entered a little monastery not too far outside the city, across Lake Pontchartrain, on the North Shore — St. Joseph Abbey, a house of the Benedictine order (an old order dating back to the 5th century). St. Joseph Abbey is about 100 years old. But, for 1500 years, the Benedictine Order has lived by two fundamental rules: Work and prayer. That’s all I really wanted. I sought to work, to pray, and to use both as tools for deepening my relationship with a power greater than myself.

That lasted eight years.

If you’re interested in the daily routine of my monastic life, I can explain it in days to come. I fear this is getting too long.

Let me leave with this: I met Anne shortly after I became a Benedictine monk. When she began writing Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, she emailed me with a question. A delightful email correspondence began shortly thereafter.

In 2005 when I left the monastery, Anne offered me a job on her staff.

An amazing 8 years later, here we are……….

Leave a comment

Filed under Benedict of Nursia, Benedictine Rule, Christian Journey, Monasticism