A personal goal I made at Oxford centered on not allowing myself to get sucked into the demands of school and be spit out like so much exhausted gristle at the end of the year, panting and gasping for breath.
Part of this goal involved a re-appraisal of my interest and connection to monasticism, particularly of Benedictine Monasticism. I am now aspiring to be an oblate at St. Leo Abbey. After a couple of monthly meetings, I will be able to announce my intention to be a novice oblate, and then after a year of spiritual formation, formerly dedicate myself to the Abbey.
Yes, the monks are back, as I stated in a blog post over a year ago. And now I look at the month-plus absence of words on this blog as a bit of a blessing, especially given the vitriol of mid-term election politics. At least I can say I haven’t added to the din. But, before this quickly turns into a self-righteous pat on the back, I have to admit, during my lunch hour at school, I’ve been addicted to reading nasty remarks people leave each other when commenting on news stories or op-eds.
I don’t know what specific article initially triggered this, but I was reading some political article from either NPR or CNN, and after I had finished scrolling down to the bottom of the article I noticed a virtual bar fight commencing between others who had read the article and who wanted to throw their two cents in. Republicans were referred “repukelicans,” and Democrats were called “demorats” or “democraps.” Liberals were cited for their weakness and a claimed socialistic takeover of America. Conservatives were derided for close-mindedness and a desire to return to days of slavery where white men ruled over all. I never commented, but joined in anyway, scrolling down to find the most vicious and outrageous comments and fervently hoping they would have to deal with an equally vicious comeback.
Such was my front row seat to what was the shock and awe-no-he-DIDNT of the midterm elections.
“Really?” I could hear the Holy Spirit and Communion of Saints saying. “Really? THIS is what you are enjoying and contemplating? After having read all of THAT?” (pointing accusingly at my wall of books on monasticism, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, Benedictine spirituality, the Divine Hours, etc. to which I walked sheepishly past every morning).
I was immersed in the cacophony of divisiveness, punditry, and political nastiness and forgot that God more often than not is found in the silence of our being, in the structured ordering of ourselves focused on God, to the banishment of all else.
So in the midst of this political free for all, I took up once again my books on St. Benedict, St. Bruno, and the Desert Fathers, read over my Merton, pondered the hazelnut with Julian of Norwich, structured my prayers to the Daily Office, and visited St. Leo Abbey in Florida to experience prayer and Mass with the brothers.
We look, in our own lives and in our society, for stability. We look for depth and meaning as well. We shake our heads at the television or radio every night, wondering how things got so messed up. How can we get it right? And when? What do we look to?
I firmly believe that the examples of today’s monasteries all over the world, be they Benedictine, Carthusian, Trappist, or Buddhist, or any other variant of monastic community focused on living together in peace and harmony in a life of prayer and hospitality, can offer to the world a model to live by which would alleviate half the suffering in the world. They are not bastions of perfection by any means, but the striving toward this perfection to tantamount to their life together. They are not utopias, but in a better sense they shatter the illusion of utopias by recognizing the realities of human existence and suffering.
“The monastery is a school,” wrote Thomas Merton, “A school in which we learn from God how to be happy. Our happiness consists in sharing the happiness of God, the perfection of His unlimited freedom, the perfection of His love. What has to be healed in us is our true nature, made in the likeness of God. What we have to learn is love.”
I keep going back and forth, interest waning and waxing in my studies and practices in Christian monasticism. I think it is time for this to stop. If the lives of monks and nuns throughout the Church’s history has truly open doors and created paths in my journey toward God, then so be it. It is useless to ask or wish for more. I have never come across a more wondrous and varied group of saints and would-be-saints for spiritual guides, who urge, above all things, to “listen with the ear of [the] heart.”
Therefore, I will continue to focus on monastic formation through oblation, a novice once again stumbling through the gates to hear the holy silence of God.
Hopefully lunch hour will be a bit different from now on…