Reflections and thoughts.
I invite you on a journey with me as we read together and or reflect on one of the great books on living the Monastic Life either outside or inside the monastery “Monastic Practices”. As our author Charles Cummings a Trappist-Cistercian Monk shares, the purpose of Monastic Practice is plain and simple, they are about our Search for God. They are the “means” and not the end.
How to use this guide or reflection.
Each and every section on the book in this commentary is about the length of a Sunday Sermon. (if read out loud perhaps ten to fifteen minutes). They are brief reflections to help you ask personal questions or learn a bit more about Monastic Living. As you read these short reflections you have two options. To read along with this reflection the book Monastic Practices by Charles Cummings as a source of reflection and inspiration as you go from chapter to chapter or to skip the book for now and just read each section as I am writing, without the book in hand, as a starting point of your own journey of prayer and practice. The themes are universal in Monastic life, so you can follow along without reading the book. You may at a later time decide to read the book for yourself and take it a step further on your own spiritual path.
As a “secular monk”, living in the world, my home is my monastic enclosure, not the Monastery. I have been practicing many of these “practices” for much of my life as a Diocesan Priest (26 years) and now some five years as a “professed Benedictine” with the New Benedictine Community. These practices have shaped my daily living and my daily routine. So much so, that even in my home, my spouse is not afraid to say to me around 5 p.m. “time to pray?” This, because he knows that every day, morning and evening I pray Laudes and Vespers faithfully. Even on Holiday I try to pray at least one of the offices daily so as not to lose the rhythm of prayer. As a matter of fact it is now as habitual as brushing my teeth or eating meals.
If you are new to the “way of Monastic Living”, it may not be something that you will be able to embark on immediately or quickly. As a matter of fact for all Monks, it takes years to begin to find the congruence between the “external” and the “internal”, and it is a constant task, day in and day out. As one of my friends who is in his first year of novitiate in a Monastery in Germany says, “it may take me years to change from a Night Owl, to an Early Bird.” He refers to the fact that the Monks rise for Vigils and Lauds in his community at 5:30 am every morning except for Feast Days and Sundays when lauds is prayed an hour latter. As Cummings says in his introduction, “It is not only new comers who need to learn how. All of us need to rediscover deeper levels of meaning of the things we do every day.”
But again, one must not lose sight of the goal. Monastic Practice, Liturgical Practices, Prayer Practices or disciplines are not about the externals, but about the integration of the external with the internal. A practice is just a practice until it begins to become part of your being and your identity. That is the work of grace and the work of the Spirit. We must never forget, that “the ordinary things that we do every day constitute our normal (monastic) path to God.” What is our part? To desire to be closer to God, to desire to learn how to pray, to desire to become more than we are at this moment. As a great Anglican preacher Jeremy Taylor once said, “Prayer is the body of the Bird, and Desire are its wings.”
I write these reflections in two very sacred spaces in my own personal journey. One is the Jerusalem Community monastery in Cologne Germany where I am visiting for five days, with the hope to learn from their contemporary way of expressing Monastic Life after Vatican II, and secondly, St. Otillien Benedictine Arch-abbey in Bavaria between Augsburg and Munich. St. Otillien is one of the largest and most influential monasteries in the Benedictine world. Not only because of it’s size but because of it’s history. For a century and a half it has sent monks all over the world as Missionaries to preach the Gospel with example and prayer on nearly every Continent that exists. My time in these Monasteries is my own “return to the center”. It keeps me connected with other Monastics who are living their vocation in a cloistered or closed community, and it brings me back to the daily rhythm and practice not only of prayer, but eating, exercising, working, and finding balance in our daily walk with God. If anything, these religious practices cannot be attained alone. We are in need of others who serve as examples, as mentors, as teachers, and as guides. So I hope this journey in Monastic Practices will also serve you in your own very special and unique journey of the Soul as it journeys to God.
Pax Benedictina +