Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mel Is Gone

Close to twenty years. That’s how long I’ve known him and both of us will be firsts to admit that we’ve not always seen eye to eye on a lot of things – either practically or theologically. I think, in some ways, we were both thorns in the other’s flesh. There was, as well, a certain level of mutual appreciation at the center of our relationship. For the past four years we were neighbors. Now he’s gone. No, he didn’t die. He simply up and moved away to another state six months ago.

Now his house sits empty with a for sale sign in the front yard. I’m happy for him because he wasn’t happy after retiring and I hope that some happiness and a sense of completeness is part of his new life. At the same time I feel a little ripped off. It’s a feeling that stays with me. I’ll never see Mel walking out to pick up his morning paper again. He’ll never again ride back and forth across his yard on his mower. We’ll never again stand in the shade of a pecan tree and talk with one another. He was predictable and I generally knew what to expect from him. I miss Mel despite the differences that we shared and I would hope that he feels that same toward me.

Stability is a two-sided coin. The one side has to do with exterior dimensions. The other side has to do with interior realities. This is something that I never gave a lot of thought to before I was introduced to St. Benedict and began exploring the implications and ramifications inherent in stability. Now I spend quite a bit of time thinking about it. Now I realize its connection and importance.

I was always something of a modern day cowboy ready to saddle my horse and move on when things got a little too close. But in all the moving on that I’ve done in my life, and there’s been a lot of it, I’ve never enjoyed a perfect trail or arrived at a perfect destination. It’s always been hard going. Some of the destinations turned out to be ghost towns with wells gone dry. In the going and in the arriving I was always there encountering my own imperfect self and the imperfect selves of others.

I’ve still got a lot of cowboy in me. Trails and destinations still beckon to me but they’ve lost a lot of their luster and I don’t long for them like I used to. I’m learning how to be still now where both exterior and interior dimensions are concerned. I’m learning to be content – both with myself and with the others who surround me. In learning to be still and content I’m discovering again and again that I’m only content with the exterior geography that surrounds me when I’m at one with my own interior landscape.

Benedict’s monks were to remain in the enclosure of the monastery for the duration of their natural lives [Prologue 50]. Here there was no room for rugged individualism or cowboy antics. This stipulation regarding stability was for the good of the individual and the good of the community. It kept the individual involved in the abrasive give and take that often happens when diverse personalities are engaged in community. Benedict, drawing upon the history and wisdom found in the early centuries of monasticism, realized that the pursuing process of continual conversion in the individual would only serve for good and help insure stable longevity in both the individual and in the community.

Although the largest percentage of us do not live in a monastic enclosure, most people will never spend one night in a monastery, there are some very real and important implicit and explicit implications to be found in Benedict’s understanding of stability. We all participate in community in one way or another in our family, parish, work, and social groups and part of the beauty of Benedictine spirituality is that it transcends monastic enclosures. It reaches into, penetrates, and improves the fabric of life wherever it is being lived. And why shouldn’t it? It is, after all, a very practical and applicable interpretation of Gospel values.

Pax Christi,