Friday, July 11, 2008

Avoiding the Reefs and Bars


Life in the Twenty First Century is, to say the least, an interesting challenge. If the past century were viewed as a seminar and one were asked to give the keynote address for this seminar, it would be difficult to find a better title for that address than “Change, Change, More Change, And More Changes Are Coming.”

The changes that have come have been fast and furious creating terribly high tides and disastrous erosion. Mooring lines have been broken. Foundations have been undermined. Ships have been sunk. The Ivan’s and Katrina’s of the cyclone world have their many counterparts in the social moral climate of our modern times. What more will the coming changes bring upon us that we haven’t already experienced? Time, and not too much of it, will certainly tell. No this isn’t about fear mongering although we should be closely listening to the groaning sounds being emitted by our earthly home and of our fellow residents.

It’s not that we’ve been without modern day prophets. The problem is as old as humanity. People, as a whole, more often refuse to listen to the voice of the prophets. Although he never proclaimed himself to be one, Merton looked at the world’s social and moral climatology and offered up a prophetic voice that sounds as true today as it did during the days of his life. “Man in our day, menaced on all sides with ruin, is at the same time beset with illusory promises of happiness. Both threat and promise often come from the same political source. Both heaven and hell have become, so [they say], immediate possibilities here on earth. It is true that the emotional hell and the heaven which each one of us carries about within him tend to become more and more public and common property. And as time goes on it seems evident that what we have to share seems to be not so much one another’s heaven as one another’s hell. For the desire that we cherish, in the secrecy of our soul, as our ‘heaven’ sometimes turns, when offered as a solution to common problems, into everybody’s hell. This is one of the curious features of twentieth-century civilization, and of its discontents.”[1]

Life, by its very nature since the moral fall in the Garden of Eden, is not an easy adventure. The seeds of that one deceptive and forbidden action were deposited in the ground of the souls of humanity where they did, and continue to do, what seeds do to reproduce the action that produced them.[2] Our struggle, then, is not against the world and the humanity that fills it to bulging proportions. Our struggle is against our own selves and our own innate tendencies to propagate and cultivate the seeds of that one deceptive and forbidden original action that started the whole mess of moral decline.[3]

Our world is a troubled world that, except for our modern conveniences and levels of education, resembles the world of Benedict’s day in a lot of ways. Safety and security globally and in our own neighborhoods have waned. Economic hardships, created by greed, are more the norm than the exception for growing numbers. Life is fast becoming an urgent struggle for a lot of people as costs of living rise. Secular powers are failing, despite their best efforts, to provide solutions to the plight of humanity. It seems that the Hun’s, and more than a few of them, are without and within.

It was into a similar socio-political-economic scenario that Benedict appeared, worked, and prayerfully lived his life. Benedict, in the words of Esther de Waal, “built an ark to survive the rising storm, an ark not made with hands, into which by two and two human and eternal values might enter, to be kept until the water assuaged, an ark moreover which lasted not only one troubled century but for fifteen, and which has still the capacity to bring many safe to land.”[4]

More and more I’m learning to look to Benedict and his Rule for guidance in helping me deal with the troubled world that surrounds me. His way of life may be rooted in antiquity but it is far from antique and out of date. His way is not always easy nor does his way always meet with popular opinion and this includes even a great amount of popular religious opinion.

The way of St. Benedict, simply rooted in the Gospel of Christ and the traditions of the early Church, cuts against the grain of modern thought, philosophy, and foolish antics providing a reliable chart and trustworthy compass that helps me navigate through these rapidly changing modern day reefs and bars that would otherwise leave me hung up while contrary winds and waves[5] batter me to pieces. I’m discovering that his voice is like a horn that pierces the dense fog of our times, his words like beacons of light marking a safe channel carrying me closer to Christ.

[1] Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience, p. 1
[2] Romans 5:12
[3] Ephesians 6:12
[4] Esther de Waal, Seeking God, The Way of St. Benedict, p. 15
[5] Ephesians 4:14
[Photo: The lighthouse on Dixie Bar, Ft. Morgan, Alabama]