““Treat the tools of the monastery as if they were the vessels of the altar” (RB 31:10). Clearly, in Benedictine spirituality, everything is sacred and everything is one.” Joan Chittister
After Compline last night, I went for a walk around the Monastery complex. One of my favorite places is in front of the Monastery Grocery Store where they sell all of their fresh, and homemade goods from cheese, to homemade sausage, meat from their butcher shop, farm fresh eggs gathered daily, bread made early morning, and of course fruit and vegetables from the monastery garden.
In the evening there is a beautiful view from the store of the western horizon with a field of corn, trees, and open skies. Last night I sat for over an hour to just sit in silence and watch the setting of the sun. Awareness! And Balance!
“Awareness of the sacred in life is what holds our world together and the lack of awareness and sacred care is what is tearing it apart.” JC
This morning at breakfast, one of the monks who likes to chat with me in english said abruptly, “In america you shoot policemen, don’t you?” I was not surprised by this comment knowing that Germans have a huge respect for law and order. It is what has helped them return to civil law and government after the tragedy of WWII. It is what built a system that rejects and even makes illegal all ‘hate speech’ of any sort. But what was behind this timely remark? The fact that in American Society, and in many parts of the world we lack awareness and balance in every way. The freedom to carry weapons openly, the extremism found in political ideals, the complete lack of respect for human life. The deterioration of our natural resources. We are out of balance and lack awareness.
“Benedictine spirituality asks simply for harmony, awareness, and balance. Benedictine spirituality asks us to spend our time well and to be careful that our wants are not confused with our needs and to treat the world and everything in it as sacred. Benedictine spirituality asks us to recognize our connectedness. Benedictine spirituality calls us to be mindful.” JC
The greatest blessing of coming to the Monastery is the ability to get back into a regular routine of prayer, reading, leisurely exercise (biking and walking), healthy eating, and silence. These are the pieces of Benedictine life that we all should have a healthy dose of each and every day of our lives. Having the time to sit for an hour in silence to watch the sunset go down in the evening is not to be a luxury, it should be part of our daily experience and opportunity.
“Monastic mindfulness sees everything as one: the people of the earth, the resources of the earth, the products of the earth.” JC
Getting in touch with the deep and healing power of nature is something we all long for and desire. Three months ago I Started walking daily for an hour in our nearby park. It is far from the beauty of a monastic countryside, but daily I get to see sky, clouds, sun, trees, nature and a panorama of a small mountain range known as the Saint Gabriel Mountains in the south of the city. It is my daily ‘fix’.
“Benedictine harmony and Benedictine balance demand a simpler approach to life.” JC
We all long for simplicity and balance, even when we think we are doing ok and keeping ourselves busy. But that is the problem right there! We shouldn’t be busy. We should be instead, active and engaged in the world, but aware of our natural surroundings, of the food we eat, of the relationships we cherish and the environment we share.
“No one thing consumes the monastic’s life. No one thing gets exaggerated out of all proportion to the other dimensions of life. No one thing absorbs the human spirit to the exclusion of every other.” JC
No one thing! No one relationship, no one job, no one church, no one political party or point of view, no one preoccupation. All things are to be kept in balance if we are to be truly Aware of our existence. The German Benedictine Anselm Grün speaks of the “Art of Living’. True living is an art form. It has always the harmony and the balance of a perfect painting or portrait.
“The fact is not that we don’t have time for important things in life. The fact is that we don’t take time for the important things in life. We don’t take the prayer time. We don’t take the reading and reflection time with Scripture. We don’t take the time we need to make the family, family.” JC
Balance is not easy but always attainable when that is where our greatest energy is spent. Knowing when to turn off the TV or Computer. Knowing when to go for a walk. Knowing how to truly enjoy a meal and all of it’s ingredients. Knowing when to stop everything and just sit in silence and in awe of ones surroundings.
“To live a life of Benedictine awareness means we must come to see what we cannot. To the monastic mind, everything speaks of God. What I have and what I do not have. What I want and what I do not want. What I care for and what I do not care for. But the message is not easily extracted. It takes reflection and prayer and the wisdom of others. Life takes working through. Life takes perspective.” JC
I know that these three weeks spent in the monastery, are more of a rehearsal for the life that I want to continue to lead when I get back home to my daily routine and disorder. In order to have this balance, and awareness, it does mean giving up certain things that are not essential and are very peripheral. But, once you have let go of them, you do not miss them but long for more quiet, more peace, more silence, more balance. It is finding the sacredness in everything, in work, in play, in prayer, and in relationship. This is at the grasp of all of us who might dare to practice this kind of mindfulness and balance, until we get it right.
PIC Last nights sunset. Taken in the region by a local artist and photographer.