Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Return

In associating with a monastic community there can be a certain sense of fascination or romanticism at the outset, particularly when ones lifelong frame of reference is devoid of any monastic knowledge or experience. In my own case, what little knowledge I had was tainted by well-intentioned professors who insisted that monasticism was little more than the fruit of extreme stoicism.

Then I began to read history for the sake of understanding for myself. At the beginning I honestly didn’t see or understand how I was being led in this exploration. Hindsight, they say, is always 20/20.

My introduction to monastic spirituality began with the Celtic hermits. These hermits introduced me to the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The eremitical life was especially appealing to me for a number of personal reasons. My exploration took me on to Pachomius and monasticism in the East. After this long exploration I came upon St. Benedict and the monastic expression that he founded in Western Europe.

Any movement will have extremists and it’s easy to draw conclusions about a whole that are not wholly accurate. This is especially true when we are looking for reasons to justify our chosen preferential reasoning - conditioned reasoning that can easily lay stumbling blocks that hinder the personal freedom that is true freedom.

Moving beyond our conditioned mental conclusions, especially when these conclusions have some theological or denominational faith-base to them, is not always a comfortable experience. It is, more often, uncomfortable and challenging. It can really upset our lives. It has the potential to upset those closest to us.

It is, at the same time, deeply fulfilling in ways that are difficult to describe. It brings with it an interior knowing that goes beyond any mental knowing, a knowing that will not allow us to rest until we say yes to its beckoning.

Monastic spirituality has an inherent nature about it that draws the heart and soul into its solitude, into its routine and structure that lead us into deeper solitude and contemplative fruit. It speaks to our deepest self. It quietly and unimposingly calls us. Its invitation can be summed up in one word. Return.

Return to God.
Return to prayer.
Return to one’s authentic self.

Is it possible to accomplish this trinity of returns without entering into or associating oneself with a body of cloistered religious, without some common structure, without a rule to guide us? It may be. But, looking at the overall context of Christian history, it is more highly probable, without a community and a rule to assist and guide, to find ourselves wandering about in directionless little circles in the aimless wilderness of self[1] where we lead ourselves according to our own interests and write our own rule of life as we go.

[1] See RB Ch. 1, The Kinds of Monks