Keeping a Monastic* Lent for Dispersed individuals and Communities.
1 The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. 2 Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure 3 and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.
So begins Chapter 49 of the Rule. Just as the Monk should always keep death before one‘s sight, so Lent is also a life‘s task. Yet every year we are blessed with this rich season of growth and springtime for the soul! As a dispersed Monastic or person who does not live In Monastic Community yet belongs to one, the challenges of keeping a Holy Lent are different from those who have the luxury of the daily offices and the community gathering for Lenten Meals and devotions, reading and study.
Here are some ways one who lives outside the cloister walls can keep a pure and holy Lent as Benedict bids his monks and followers of the rule. Here is a basic scheme of some of the practices that can help one keep Lent in ones mind and heart.
Nothing too burdensome! Room for Grace!
The Opus Dei. Simpliciter intret et oret (simply go in and pray 52:4)
The Opus Dei is the Daily task of keeping the Monastic Hours. They are simply based on general times of the day, though some communities follow the rule literally and pray seven times a day. But for most all Monastics the Opus Dei or Work of God is Morning, Midday, Evening, and Night. These are the spaces one can keep every day by praying the psalms, antiphons, canticles, and intercessions. Usually the more lengthy prayer (not more than 30 minutes) is Morning and Evening, and the shorter prayer (not more than 15 minutes) is at Midday and Night time. A longer period of Reading, Meditation or Study may be added to the Day or to the Week (Lectio Divina). For those who are not used to Keeping the Monastic Hours I recommend highly Phylis Tickle’s, “The Divine Hours, Eastertide, prayers of Lent through Easter”. These are a simple and brief form to Keep the Monastic practice of fixed hours of prayer or The Daily office. If you are daring to extend the practice, the Monastic Breviary from St John‘s Collegeville is a wonderful complete form of the Monastic Office and inclusive language friendly. Another option is the App of the Daily Office from the Sisters of St Helena (Anglican) which is easy to use and complete. Their office is completely expansive in language and style. (OSH Daily Office). The idea is to join Monks men and women, around the world in praying multiple times a day as the ancient custom is observed since the Desert fathers and mothers. “For the Monastic”, says Michael Casey, “The office was not simply a service rendered to God at appropriate intervals, but a means and stimulus to unceasing prayer.”
Fasting is a complicated spiritual practice and must be designed individually by each and every person. Benedict clearly states that fasting is approved and even dictated but never too harsh nor too strict. All things in moderation. My experience in Benedictine Communities is that some days in Lent are set aside for restriction of foods during the week but that the Joy of Sunday and Feast Days are also kept with food and drink appropriate. Most communities do not keep the strict orthodox fast (Vegan) of no animal products. But Fasting and Feasting are a big part of Monastic Living. Thus I recommend that one keeps this practice in a way that is measured and prayerful and never too extreme.
“But don’t limit the goodness of fasting by abstaining only from foods. For true fasting is the enemy of evil. “Loose the chains of injustice!” Forgive your neighbor’s offense, and forgive his debts. Don’t “fast unto judgment and strife.” You don’t eat meat, but you eat your brother and sister. You abstain from wine, but stubbornly hold on to insolence. You patiently wait until evening to partake, but you spend the day in court.
“Woe to those who are drunk, but not from wine!” Wrath is a drunkenness of the soul, making it senseless, like wine. St Basil
Doing Good Works takes on many forms. The value behind good works is a generous spirit. The Monastic should always have a tender heart for the poor, the down trodden, the refugee, and the outcast in our midst. These “anawim” are not hard to find in any community large or small. Sharing wealth, resources and personal time for others in need which can be even more beneficial to an individual sometimes than a hand out, creates hearts that are generous and giving. For the activist Monk, this form may be even more visible in working with groups and communities that are truly seeking a change in our social structures that are unjust and oppressive.
Reading and Study
I like to dedicate one day a week to reading and study or the equivalent split up in night or morning hours. Reading and Study in an age of over stimulation by media I believe is becoming more and more important. Reading and Study need not be heavy or burdensome. Podcasts, and U Tube videos of Talks and Thematic Presentations are also easy access for those whose reading skills are weak or are easily distracted. Now days, listening books are also easily available. There is little excuse for reading and study in a day and age where there are many expressions that can be attained and utilized. Claustrum sine armario; castrum sine armentatio (A monastery without a library is like a military camp without an arsenal)
Exercise and Movement
We are all body, mind, and spirit. A Lenten life without movement and exercise and good healthy eating and sleeping practices is all part of a Monk‘s daily routine. Again extremes are always to be avoided and the Practice should fit your age, energy level, and circumstances. At the same time seeing this as a Lenten Practice is good and wholesome. The better our care of personal Health is, the more time and energy we have for God. St Paul is clear about our bodies being Temples and dwelling places for the Holy Spirit.
Return to the Heart
Purity of Heart is at the core of living a joyful and fulfilling Lent. “Find your Heart,” wrote Abba Pambo, “and you will be saved.” Returning to the Heart is the work of centering one self in God. This means on a practical level says Michael Casey in his book “Introducing Benedicts Rule”, following these following essential Monastic Observances.
Some withdrawal from secular involvement
Renunciation of instinctual satisfaction
Emancipation from psychological determinants
Rejection of unhealthy patterns of dependency
Liberation from conscious self-programming
This is where the deeper work of Lent begins to take hold and continues way beyond the forty days of Lent. This is the work of gentle introspection and at the same time heartfelt listening to others. As with all of our Monastic Practices they are different and unique for each and every one of us. The goal is to get to the center of our being and learning to truly love ourselves as God loves us. “Let us live along with ourselves under the eyes of the one who observes us from above.” St Gregory
Wherever we are and however isolated we may be as dispersed Monastics, Community is an essential element of our Monastic Life. Be it the Liturgical Community that gathers regularly for Eucharist or other Communities that I belong to and am responsible for showing up and being present. Cloistered Monastics have this as a given. But others like ourselves must be forthcoming in both building and forming community with others who share our Spirit. Our relationship with others around us including family and friends are an essential part of Living fully our Lenten Discipline. We are deeply connected in the Spirit with our surrounding communities.
For some, these basic elements of living a monastic Lent are a given. For others there may be some new invitations to new ways of being and doing. By no means are these practices all inclusive. Centering Prayer, Meditation and Yoga, Activism, and Pilgrimage, are also other great contemporary Lenten and Spiritual Practices. It is all about motivation, intention and fervor. In the Spirit of Benedict, Lent is a time of Living more intensely and purposefully, what we do daily as Christians living in the world. What is important is that Lent for the Monastic should be a joyful and renewing time… the washing away the negligences of other times.
A fruitful Lent for all!
Pax y Bene +++Vincent osb
*Monasticism (from Greek μοναχός, monachos, from μόνος, monos, ‘alone’) or monkhood is a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work. It is the lonely pursuit of finding God in isolation and in community.