by Jacqueline Block
Living From The Heart – Module Five – May, 2015
Monastic Spirituality is not principally for the sake of personal salvation or contemplative withdrawal. Monastic spirituality is meant to bring the reign of Christ to the world around us through a life of community consciousness of the will of God (141).
—Joan D. Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily
In reflecting upon the impact that this book had on me, it is perhaps this quote that best summarizes the intersection between some key ideas of this book and my own spiritual journey. Time after time different insights spoke to my searchings for a way to be in this world as an individual, but even more so as a body of Christ — living wisely, compassionately, humbly and communally. Such concepts suggest a gentle but provocative approach to being the gospel, the good news, to a world increasingly hungry but lost in their pursuit for meaning in life.
Not surprisingly the authors interpretation of the Benedictine Rule offers no quick or easy path towards spiritual growth. But it does offer an integral, balanced and complete approach to being a “gospel people”. I have often thought, should it not be those who know Christ who have the greatest ability to live wisely, and to demonstrate to the world a sense of hope, joy and love as one navigates the complexities of life? As opposed to our current N. American independence and individualism, the author provides a picture of a community that can both “stretch our vision” of how God is calling us to live and give the support and grace to keep pursuing such a life amongst its joys and challenges. The New Testament often speaks of being one in Christ (Rom 12:5), and as Jesus prays in John 17:25, it is in unity that we can best let the world know that God loves us and that indeed Jesus came from the Father to show us his love. Living with others as we pursue peace in Christ does not come by humanly controlling our environment or suppressing real emotions but in finding a deeper peaceful connection in Christ, with God, through the Holy Spirit that allows us to live more graciously and harmoniously. It is in this space where we can truly accept the limitations of ourselves and others.
The fact is we need each other, as the author states “it is easy to be virtuous alone.” Christ’s message of the coming of God’s Kingdom seems to clearly portray not only individuals finding transformation in their relationship with God, but also of God’s people serving and loving each other until the whole “community is brought to wholeness and maturity.” It’s in living in community where we may most sense the fallenness of our humanity, but there is also the hope that in growing together as God’s people that we can more powerfully experience and give evidence to God’s truth and love.
A key element in being a “true” community comes as each individual is respected and is willing to be responsible for the well-being of the whole. In humility, this means we subject ourselves to the other, we do not seek to dominion or control others nor depend on them for our own growth. As the author writes, there is amongst everyone “a sense of significance and happy admission of insignificance.”
In addition to the challenges and hopes of returning to a more communal sense of living together and growing in Christ, three concepts from this book seemed significantly applicable to my own journey:
Surrender. On one level while I am more drawn to the idea of surrendering myself to Christ than the different whims of society and culture, in practice, I recognize my own battle in actually choosing to trust and relinquish control to God on a daily basis. As the author states, “it is easy to give our service but not our hearts.”
Hospitality. Increasingly over the past years I have sensed a calling towards being more open to others, and yet I also recognize the impact of living in a culture where our fears and self-centredness keep us alienated from others. At times I struggle to find the balance between creating healthy/protective boundaries with the we need to take responsibility in making the world safer for others, not just ourselves. I know personally that it is only through conscious decisions to reach out, even in my uncertainty, that I can begin to create new habits of true hospitality.
Work. I really appreciated the book’s emphasis on having a sacred view of work. Work is good, needed and it can be holy, if our attitude and motivations reflect a desire to bless others and not just seek gain for ourselves. Work does not inherently keep us from living contemplatively, in fact it may enhance such a life journey, if we can remain disciplined and balanced in our approach to work. I also appreciated the author’s comments that laziness and irresponsibility can be a form of “injustice and/or thievery.” This thought in addition to her insights on the negative effects of being dependent on others speaks, I sense, to aspects of my own character and/or development.
In general, the author seems to understand both the challenges and benefits of submitting oneself to the “rules” of a Benedictine Monastery. Moreover, while the “rules” are meant to guide the community, there remains a conviction that above all it is imperative that individually and collectively we seek to be aware of God’s presence, which is lovingly and constantly encouraging each us towards transformation — if only we are willing to listen and trust in his directing Spirit