Sunday, May 31, 2009

(13) Obedience

"In what does this narrow road consist? This will be the road of
obedience where the room for freedom of action becomes more
restricted, where man lives no longer according to his personal
judgments, desires, and caprices, but at the good pleasure and
according to the will of another: ' another will bind your belt and
lead you where you would not' (Jn 21:18)."
Cistercian Publication, 1989, p.84.]

Comment: The above book was first published in French, in 1980.
And browsing through my English translation, I found Dom Sighard's
extensive discussion of the different elements of the Benedictine
Rule really quite elegant and truly helpful--especially for anyone
interested in how these elements are to be ideally employed by
a monk living in a monastery.

As for "obedience," it really boils down being obedient to the
Abbot--who serves not only as a spiritual father, but also as the
representative of Christ in the monastic community.

The time of writing of this book was at least some 30 years ago.
Within the monastery, Dom Sighard's approach to the Rule, to
the Benedictine Tradition, was definitely focused on the traditional
monk. Still the Cistercians chose to publish this book, making it
available to those monastically-oriented people who live out in the
world--beyond the monastery's walls.

So how does a lay monastic respond to this idea of "obedience"?
If you are affiliated with a monastic community, though not professed,
are you always obedient to the abbot or abbess or prioress? That's
a tough call, and even tougher if you are a non-traditional monk who
lives completely on the outside. Where than does one place his or
her obedience?

I can only talk of my own experience about this question. For several
years I had the good fortune having a wise Benedictine Abbot as my
spiritual director. Though I was not bound to any strict obedience to
this abbot, he gave me good counsel that I was free to accept or not
accept. But that is not obedience in the true sense of the word. Yet
it is about a "decision" to accept his counsel. Unfortunately my good
abbot died, and that was the end of my spiritual direction. I found no
other to step into his shoes.

However, to Whom do I give obedience? I was mindful that somehow
I had to turn over my life to Someone greater than myself, because
otherwise my life lost its meaning. Just me, just my own opinion, but
that's how I honestly felt. Happily I had enough "smarts" to figure the
One and Only to Whom I would give over my life in obedience. It was
to the Holy Spirit, who I ultimately discovered both within my mind and
outside in telling events.

Of course learning to listen to the Spirit, much less being obedient
to Such, takes discernment. Not easy, a situation where one must
learn to be careful and hopefully wise. I finally figured a thing or two.
If I stumbled lots, if I kept hitting brick walls, I knew that I was on the
wrong side of discernment. If I encountered "open doors," I likely was
on the right side of discernment. These were mostly exterior
understandings when it came to the working of the Spirit.

The other side of the coin is our interiority, where the Spirit can come
into a more full play if one is mindful. It's about pondering, about
contemplating upon the messages one believes that s/he is receiving.
It's really baseline *faith,* too! You have to arrive at a firm faith that
the Holy Spirit really does work within you, helps you, leads you,
asking a level of discerning obedience in order to follow through.

That's my experience, and it is not even embellished by religious
trimmings! And, happily, being obedient is not always a negative,
taking you to places where you would rather not--though it can,
but it also can take you to places that are wonderful, that are
bountiful in ways unexpected. Obedience can lead to adventure.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

(12) Discrimination

"...the differences between the lay brothers and choir monks had
become more pronounced as the century began. In a sort of
territorial ordering of space, physical separation ran along strict
lines of demarcation. The kitchens, agricultural areas, and trade
shops became the 'turf' of the brothers. The chapter room, choir
area, and classrooms were the territory of the priests and clerics.
They had separate recreation rooms and oratories, even separate
cemeteries. What was obvious to many outsiders was that priests
and lay brothers were separate but not equal."
Press, 1990, pp. 154-155.]

Comment: The author of this book was discussing the Swiss-
American Congregation of Benedictines, as it was at the turn of
the 20th century. However, by 1920 European brothers were no
longer immigrating to the United States. Over time these brothers
dwindled, but "there was still operative a mentality that gave
theological justification to the separation of lay brothers and priests."

As Fr. Rippinger also noted, after World War II, what with "the
termination of many monastic farms and specialized trade shops,
as well as printing presses, sawmills, and other operations, the
practical basis for the existence of the lay brothers was rapidly
disappearing. This was combined with an increasing awareness
of the social inequalities in the American society of the 1950s and
1960s and the need to eliminate discrimination and segregation."
[Ibid, p. 158.]

Interestingly, years back I had occasion to talk with a Benedictine
prioress who told me a similar story, that her congregation once
discriminated between the kitchen-worker nuns and the more
educated nuns. She mentioned that the kitchen nuns had to wear
a special apron over their habit until recent times.

I suppose one could easily smart over these confessed conditions
as "discrimination." But, historically, this was very much the trait
of the earlier European class-system. The Benedictines reflected
this, at that time. No matter that St. Benedict, himself, was a layman.
His intent would seem more that his monastery be a place for all
men, including the preponderance of illiterate monks at that time.
Benedict was leery of priests joining his house--and if they did, they
need follow his Rule which talked about seniority in terms of entrance.

But humans are humans, so to speak. We have that barnyard
mentality when it comes to the pecking-order. Though it is not as
pronounced these days in Benedictine houses; because though
priests still dominate, the brothers are usually better educated
and simply prefer not to be ordained. Maybe less a class system,
the situation still stresses status.

Regardless, now in our own times, there seems yet another situation
rising when it comes to "status." There's a rising spread of Benedictine
Oblates, lay monastics attached to the monasteries and priories.
Often these lay people are quite well educated, sometimes successful
professionals, though not terribly trained in theology. Hence they
are addressed at the piety level, fairly parochial, not seriously deep.

Perhaps this case spawns the following situation. At least a
minority of these oblates are hankering towards a deeper theological
background. Some have actually trained at seminaries, colleges,
and universities! Hence they possess a depth of knowledge, and
even may be less "hot-house" in their approach towards theological

One would think that these theologically educated oblates might be
more than welcome in the traditional monastic world, but that is not
usually the case. (There are exceptions, but they are rare.) However,
these days--as the call for monastic vocations within a monastery is
dwindling rapidly--methinks there should be a real emphasis, a real
effort towards supplying a seriously mature formation program for
these lay oblates.

Discrimination, put bluntly, holds back progress--as well as holding
back people. In our own time, there are probably as many, if not
more, seriously committed lay monastics out in the world, beyond the
walls, who yearn to carry forth the great Wisdom of the Benedictine
Tradition. Fortunately some of our traditional monks have begun to
take notice. There have been meetings about what to do with what
they term as the "non-traditional monks." How should they be trained?
Should the monasteries serve as formation centers, where the lay
monastic might spend a certain amount of time in serious study with
the monastery monks.

Perhaps still only "talk," but the thought it expresses is hopeful.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

(11) World Within

"...the fundamental element and purpose of the monk's life is not
essentially different from that of any Christian. On the contrary,
by discovering the interior attractions and instincts written by grace
in your heart, you touch the Heart of Christ, you become capable
of reaching the inner heart of your brothers in community and of
vibrating with the truest desires of all men."
TO MONASTIC PROFESSION, St. Bede Publications, 1979, p.141.]

Comment: At the time of this writing, Fr. Augustine served as a
Cistercian monk in Argentina. Some forty years later, reading
through his book, I sometimes feel it seems out-of-touch. The
world has moved on, and piety seems less relevant. Couldn't be
more wrong, however!

Maybe some of Fr. Augustine's words seem archaic, but their
meaning still holds--I believe. Though a devotee of the Christ,
these days I am more universally inclined towards the Cosmic
Christ as an Imago Dei. My perspective leans towards the Plenum
of the Universe, the Pantocrator, the Logos-Pneuma--all part of
the Continuum towards understanding God, the world, and
ourselves. So how do I understand Fr. Augustine's words, that
seem so far away in time and place?

I think the key for me is "relationship." As a systems philosopher
I understand the universe from the perspective of Deep Ecology,
which is about the Universal System consisting of systems upon
systems, all inter-connected, all in relationship. The universe is
One, and all its elements are but one upon One upon ONE. Like
our human body, all its systems, all its bones, inter-connect,
relate one to the other, to make our One Body move and live.

So, what Fr. Augustine seems to be saying to me is that we need
understand our self *within*. There's also this world, this mental
galaxy called mind that we humans also possess. It's like a
constellation of diversity, of archetypes, of hopes, of fears, of
information, all strung together within us.

Much of the time, we handle all this mental diversity by ignoring
it. Maybe not a bad approach, especially if we can avoid chaos.
There are some poor souls who cannot "get it together," so to
speak. On the other hand, there is this need to reconnoiter our
interiority, to explore it, to discover who/Who we are.

The "who" part would seem to be those "interior attractions and
instincts written by grace," as Fr. Augustine puts. These are the
seemingly natural part of our personality, how we are inclined.
Some, including myself, believe this natural part is something
which we are born with, though ultimately also dependent upon
our particular environment in which we live. This natural part
could be likened to our talents, to our potential.

But there is yet another aspect embedded in our mental system.
Psychologists sometimes call this our "Greater Self." Goodness!
But even sometimes these doctors of the mind refer to this as
"God." When we reach such an understanding--through gradual
individuation--I tend to think that we have encountered the Spirit

Indeed, Christ made mention that he would send the Spirit to us--
and that He and his Father would dwell within us. And when we
make this mental discovery, honing our interiority, it can be sort of
a "wow" of a response. Unbelievable! But there it is.

And it is *this* (I suspect) that Fr. Augustine is talking about, albeit
from his particular religious perspective. Discovering the Spirit
Within makes one realize that it dwells within each and every one
of us, maybe even into other forms of life existing at different
consciousness levels. And it is about *consciousness,* relating
a Connection that is there, standing within all of us, waiting for
us to better understand that we are ALTOGETHER, related,
like "branches to the Vine."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

(10) Opportunities

[A Benedictine community] "is not envisoned as a complete
counter-society, but rather as a fellowship united by divine
love in monastic observance. But it is also not simply an
apostolic community, existing for a specific purpose in the
world or in the Church...The monastic life is to be lived for
the present and the future, and makes the community
able to work and plan for the unknown...

[However, we] must remember that a Religious Order has
to be ready for new and unexpected opportunities of service
at a time when human enterprise at home and abroad presses
on to new fields of effort, while the Church often lags behind
in the race."
MONASTICISM, Morehouse-Barlow, 1987, p.90.]

Comment: There are Benedictine houses within the Anglican
Communion. As for the Order of the Holy Cross, also an
Anglican monastic order, I remain unclear exactly how it
relates to the Benedictine Tradition--but somehow it does.
And according to its precepts, it has considered the
"unexpected opportunities" that may call forth monastics
in future.

Being wise monks, the Holy Cross does not delve too deeply as to
what these unexpected opportunities might be. They will show
themselves in due course.

It could be that future--even present--monastics are beginning to
prepare themselves academically and vocationally to enter fields
of endeavor wherein they can better respond to these unexpected
opportunities. Today's world is changing fast, due to not only
events but also to advanced communications that drop loads of
information on a mostly unprepared humanity.

Consequently, much of our response has been knee-jerking rather
than strategic. These days we can hardly manage intelligible
immediate reactions much less a long-term strategic response.
Strategic thinking involves over-arching well-thought-out aims
that ultimately involve concrete results. So how might monastics
involve themselves in such a situation?

I can only guess, but Benedictine-oriented monastics do have a long-
standing Tradition upon which to draw. The major elements within the
Benedictine infrastructure can be translated not only in modern terms,
but it could be applied to modern concerns that face us today.

Monday, May 25, 2009

(9) The Shaman

"St. Benedict considered as "shaman" may appear as a new and
seemingly strange way to look at the man...Let me briefly explain
what a shaman is. Historians of religion have identified various
categories of religious personalities: the priest, the prophet, the
yogi, the sage...The shaman is another type of religious personality:
the religious guide of primitive peoples...

[However there] are three reasons why shamanism is emerging as
an important phenomenon for religious insights in our day. One
is because of interest in altered states of consciousness...The
second reason is the interest in healing in our day, and the third is
the interest in Native American spirituality."
[An article, "Contemporary Forms of Spirituality and Monastic Life"
by Donald Corcoran, O.S.B., in THE CONTINUING QUEST FOR GOD:
William Skudlarek, O.S.B. (General Editor), the Liturgical Press,
1982, p. 248.]

Comment: The above by Sr. Donald, really struck my eye--considering
St. Benedict as a shaman. At the time I was starting to study Native
American spirituality, so I was really drawn to this idea about the
founder of the Benedictine Tradition.

Thinking about it, having an avocational interest in Classical and
Medieval History, I had to admit that most of the monks who
joined Benedict's monastery were actually illiterate. These were
folk on the cusp of the Dark Ages, during the final collapse of the
Roman Empire. The infrastructure of civilization was pretty much
annihilated--and ignorance began its long march through Europe.

As for St. Benedict, himself, he was a Roman aristocrat--and that
meant he more than likely was classically educated. Though I
suspect he much preferred remaining a hermit, he was coaxed
into establishing a community of monks. His first experiment failed,
but his work in Subiaco and later at Monte Cassino took hold. And
I have to wonder whether this prayerful man may have displayed
"altered states of consciousness." Miracles were assigned to
St. Benedict, and oft illiterate folk are attracted to what they perceive
as magical--albeit such oft is clothed in religious perspectives.
Healing, also, would be a major vehicle as far as attracting the

But these ideas are all guesses on my part, though reasonable.
However, my main attraction to Sr. Donald's article pertained to
the Benedictine foray into Native American spirituality. For example,
she makes mention an article by a "monk of Blue Cloud Abbey in
the 'American Benedictine Review' [that] deals with the vision quest
of the Native American Plains Indians and compares it to monastic

Sr. Donald moves into the initiatory process. Following a vision that
calls a person forth to be a shaman, there's the shamanic spiritual
journey of "taking up of a spiritual discipline, asceticism, fasting,
prayer, and ordeals." And following this, there is a period of testing,
encountering the Dark Power(s), which if successful, the shaman
moves through this passage unto a "death-rebirth" experience.

And, finally, there is the "powerful contact with the Divine, the Sacred,
the Numinous. And as Sr. Donald continues, she puts it that
"obviously this stage is very clear in Benedict's experience of the
whole world being gathered in one ray of life."

I have to wonder how many of us moderns, within the Benedictine
Tradition, have gone through this powerful "shamanic" journey?
Wtih that question, I'll leave it at that.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

(8) Guidelines

"The vows taken at profession in the Benedictine Tradition...are
obedience, poverty, chastity, stability and conversion of manners...
It would seem to be two possible ways of understanding the vows:
1) perfection and 2) transformation...[As for perfection the} problem is
that this tension toward perfection may well be understood or limited
to the perfecting of only one level of the vows: an exterior level with
an accent on doing rather than on becoming or being.

The vows understood in the light of transformation are something quite
different. Here it is a matter of being. The vows, as they are interiorized,
deepen our being...Vital to the understanding and practice of the vows
is radicality...Rigidity is often its substitute. Rigidity is surface strictness;
radicality is a life totally immersed in the Mystery..."
WAY, St. Bede's Publications, 1989, pp. 60-62.]

Comment: At the time of the above writing, Sr. Jean-Marie was a
Trappist Abbess in Canada. In my estimation, she has hit upon
the two most important understandings when it comes to taking
vows--or even only approaching the special features presented in
the Benedictine Tradition.

It's true, too, that "perfection" may be an impossible word--at least
nowadays. Trying to be perfect is tense, and there actually can be
the tendency trying to be what one really is not. The perfect monastic,
only exteriorized, is not and never has been an honest expression
of the Benedictine Tradition. And, yes, it surely can lead to rigidity.

A rigid person, whether a monastic or not, defeats the open awareness
stressed in the Benedictine Tradition. A rigid person will not listen to
other ways much less to other people. There's no give-and-take,
no sharing--and that defeats the communal aspect of the Benedictines.

As for transformation, into the Christ Life for the Benedictine, well that
does involve "conversion of manners." Here we are talking about a
*process,* if you will. It's about evolving, about conscious development,
about raising-the-bar, moving to both more comprehensive and higher
levels of be-ing. This becoming is centered in the Formation Process.

In Benedictine-oriented monasteries, there's an expression for their
monastic life: the School of/for the Lord's Service. The monastic
community, behind the walls, provides the conditions in which the
individual can bump-up living in a close "in your face" community,
wherein all the human issues that challenge us are more closely
up-front and thus more demanding. Thus, the vows--the special
elements of the Benedictine Tradition--are important. They literally
are the tools to grow, to evolve, to form one's self towards the more
ideal. But it has to be done honestly, seriously interiorized!

Perfecting these Benedictine elements perhaps should be more
about "honing" such, polishing such into ever finer manners that
are both gentle and hospitable towards not only others but also
towards one's self.

The vows--or the formative means of the Benedictine Tradition--are
not meant to be harsh and dreadfully difficult. Rather they are like
wise guidelines for one who wishes to become a more spiritual
person. And they are guidelines that could easily apply and enhance
out in the world as well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

(7) Magistra

"Oh fire of the Holy Spirit,
life of the life of every creature,
holy are you in giving life to forms...
Oh boldest path,
penetrating into all places,
In the heights, on earth,
and in every abyss,
you bring and bind all together,
From you clouds flow, air flies,
Rocks have their humours,
Rivers spring forth from the waters
And earth wears her green vigour
Oh Ignis Spiritus Paracliti."
[A poem by Hildegard of Bingen.]

Comment: Hildegard was a Benedictine Abbess, a *Magistra*
as deemed by her medieval community of nuns. Born in the
midst of the Middle Ages, it is incredible to review this great
woman's life. She was a person of expansive talents--a literary
person, a poet, a musician, and an inspirer of beautiful
illuminations. She also was a counselor to the great in her day.

Goodness, she even wrote naturalist and scientific tracts. And
her poem above best describes her thought about Creation and
the Holy Spirit that runs through it.

When I first came across this beautiful poem by Hildegard, I was
inspired that I had found a fellow naturalist--if you will--and
amazed that this medieval scientist was not only a Benedictine
but also a woman!

Since then I have occasionally come upon Benedictine forays into
science, into naturalist studies, even way back when they re-taught
the European peasantry agricultural and fishery techniques after
the destructive chaos that ensued following the demise of the Roman

Not surprising, I guess, but it was also the Benedictines who re-gained
the great pagan scientific, naturalist, and medical studies of the
lost Greco-Roman Civilization. They secured many of these ancient
treatises from the Muslims who had somehow saved them after the
libraries of the Roman Empire had disappeared.

Indeed, I soon began to realize that the Benedictines were the
conveyors of Civilization. They saved the cultural pillars of the
Greco-Roman Civilization and injected the ingredients to build-up
what ultimately became Western Civilization.

In her own right surely Hildegard of Bingen, a Magistra, represents
this Benedictine erudition that led to the restoration of Civilization.
No doubt there were a number of Benedictine monks and nuns
who were expansively educated for their day. And some of their
medieval erudition seeped out and enhanced the world.

Perhaps I have discovered a small project? It would be interesting
to investigate how some modern Benedictines have such an
expansive outlook--and how they are sharing it for the benefit of
the rest of us.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

(6) New Creation

"We see that in Christ the world of space and time is not
annihilated; it does not disappear but it is transfigured, and
that is precisely what St. Paul means by the New Creation.
The New Creation is this present creation transformed into
the spiritual creation...All material laws are simply stages in
evolution. At the inorganic level there are certain laws
operating, and then new laws come into being as the earliest
living creatures emerge. Later, new laws develop pertaining
to the animal level, and later, still, other new laws develop
pertaining to human persons. The next stage is the
transcendence of finite being, as we enter into the divine
consciousness and into the divine mode of being..."
Templegate Publishers, 1990, pp. 168-169.]

Comment: The late Bede Griffiths was a famous Benedictine
monk who left England to eventually establish an ashram in
India. (It was a pioneering effort to found a Christian community
that would incorporate the customs of Hindu life and thought.)
Fr. Bede was also supportive of the theoretics of the New Science
emerging during his last years.

As for his above statement, I had to smile when I read it. The
flow of his evolutionary approach to emerging universal laws
corresponding to ever higher forms of Life corresponded well
with one of my intellectual/spiritual heros: Teilhard de Chardin--
the Jesuit and paleontologist who espoused a modern concept
of the Cosmic Christ in relation to his Cosmogenesis theory.
It would seem that Bede Griffiths was on the same wavelength,
so to speak.

Actually discovering a Benedictine monk--well known, too--
moving into these contemporary science theoretics, connecting
them with his faith system, with the Christ, quite comforted me.
Because at the time, I was academically moving fast into the
field of "Science and Spirituality."

Having worked for many years as a Science and Technology
Analyst, I had decided to move more into a new field that
included the study of Evolving Systems. This effort was especially
prompted by my earlier foray into Theological Studies. I had
come around from the usual religious perspectives to the equally
interesting psychological perspectives about God, about Christ,
and being aware of the emerging New Cosmology, I began to
realize that we had new data from which we might glean more
about the Plenum of the universe.

In Western religio-philosophical terms, this Plenum--this Ground
of the universe--was the Godhead, the Logos, which the Christian
Fathers took to the next level, by declaring Christ as the "Incarnation
of the Logos." Christ--as the Pantocrator--was deemed the Ruler
of the universe and had come among us! And when he left this
world, he promised that the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit as Counselor,
would come to guide us.

I can only guess that the Spirit guides each and every one of us
in ways that connect with our talents, our natural inclinations, so
as to help us to begin to conceive of this New Creation (of which
Fr. Bede speaks). Teilhard talked of the "Divine Milieu" in which
the Cosmic Christ is ever drawing us forward.

But building this New Creation will take many different hearts and
minds, employing a myriad of approaches. And I have to wonder
how the elements of the Benedictine Tradition might apply in light
of all the great insights come our way about the universe, not only
astrophysical discoveries but also psychological discoveries.
Might Benedictine wisdom help us apply these discoveries towards
enhancing our condition and consciousness in this world?

It would seem that in order to take our modern knowledge-base
and move it forward might be a necessity towards taking that
special next step into the "Divine Milieu," into the New Creation.
Yet, even with ever evolving knowledge we desperately require
*wisdom* as we move along. So I'm glad that some Benedictines
are moving into our modern knowledge-base, because they will
likely begin to understand how their Tradition--even though ancient--
might apply to our new understandings of Creation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

(5) Balance

"I was recently afforded the unusual privilege of joining a Benedictine
community in North Dakota for its annual retreat. The community is
a large one, over one hundred women, many of whom work outside
the convent. They are nurses, social workers, chaplains, professors.
Like many modern Benedictines, they try to strike a balance between
the active and contemplative life, and once a year they make a retreat
that returns them to the stillness at the heart of monasticism..."
[Kathleen Norris, DAKOTA: A SPIRITUAL GEOGRAPHY, Ticknor &
Fields, 1993, p. 183.]

Comment: A well-known Benedictine Oblate, Kathleen Norris brings
up the Benedictine propensity for *balance* in the life of not only a
community but also in the individual.

Just a guess on my part, but I suspect professed Benedictine women
live out more this balance between the contemplative and active life
than men. Still I was familiar with a community of monks--and some
of them did venture out into the world, mainly as religious scholars

As for Benedictine Oblates, well they are considered the Benedictine
"Arm" out in the world. Again, just my observation, but on their part
I have mainly seen more the tendency towards the contemplative
life. Sometimes I see more "wannabe monks" than Benedictine
people who walk the streets of this world. It's maybe a bit out-of-
balance, focusing too much on the monks, on the life *in* the abbeys
and priories, on the liturgical services, etc. There's no doubt that
monastically drawn people, who are not professed, sometimes wish
they were. (I have been just as guilty of this.)

Perhaps this process towards the contemplative life is a neccessity
for a Benedictine Oblate. It could be about the "formation" process,
which originally is about becoming a monk, about learning the
"how and why" of being a monk, about *conversio morum.* The
whole point of all this is about developing the Christ Life within ones
self. So who could blame an oblate for trying!

Still, there seems sometimes a neglect towards applying Benedictine
wisdom out in the world--a poor world that desperately needs help.
It seems as if the Benedictine balance has not yet been clearly struck
when it comes to the oblates. Why? Maybe a harsh analysis, but
it could be that most "formation" is left up to the oblate. And, in turn,
perhaps many oblates just don't know where to begin. Of course they
usually have a monthly meeting at their attached monastery, but more
than often it is more along superficial and social lines. There's
spiritual direction, sometimes, but it likely is far more about soothing
ones soul. Necessary, surely! But how does such play into the
formation process for the oblate, in any systematic way?

However there's no doubt that there are seriously "real" monastics
out in the world, who must somehow create a formation process
for themselves! They are monastics who give fully their heart and
mind and soul to "God." They seek God in ways that can seem very
different from the way in a traditional monastery. They are groping,
trying to see with more clarity. And, if they follow the Benedictine
Tradition, they are trying to strike a balance between the contemplative
and active life.

It's a NEW situation for these new monastics. And, yes, they do
need borrow from the old traditions, and more particularly the
Benedictine Tradition. How? It would be wonderful if monastery
schools were open to these new monastics. There has been talk,
or at least wishful thinking, on the part of some Benedictine
professed that such might someday become the case.

On the other hand, professed Benedictine monks and sisters have
been publishing book after book over the past forty years, making
freely available the tenets of the Benedictine Tradition. These
books are now available in the bookstores, in the libraries, and
they are stock full of monastic wisdom. These books are like
little beacons for the new monastics, who need prepare themselves
for a new way to express the contemplative into the active. At
some point there's a realization that the *balance* in all this is
not "either/or" but rather "both/and." The balance is about the
All One.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

(4) Monastic Archetype

"Behind [the] archetypal figure of the monk...a Central Archetype is
operating, which, it seems to me, is a primary religious impulse
involving both the Divine and the human. Is the monastic archetype
the same as the Central Archetype? At times, I think it is; at other
times, I think it is slightly different. In the first instance, the monastic
archetype is the emergence in the human soul of what Rudolph Otto
calls the Numinous, the Tremendum. This Central Archetype is
*Monos,* One. In the second, the monastic archetype would be the
impulse to put one's life orientation under the sign and primacy of
God, both Immanent and Transcendent. It is the core commitment accept, partner, shoulder, serve, and celebrate the
Transcendent Mystery in and with creation."
[An article "Who is the Integrating Subject? A Response from a
Western Point of View" by Myriam Dardenne, O.C.S.O., in the book
authored by Raimundo Panikkar, BLESSED SIMPLICITY: THE MONK
AS UNIVERSAL ARCHETYPE, Seabury Press, 1982, p.181.]

Comment. At the time of the above writing, Myriam Dardenne was
the Superior of the Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of the Redwoods,
Whitehorn, California. The Cistercian Order also lives by the Rule of
St. Benedict, only historically standing even in more strict
observance of such.

Also, during this period, Mother Myriam was attending a major
monastic conference, sponsored partly by an international Benedictine
group. The agenda was mostly about the future of monasticism--
both East and West. Additionally, the agenda delved deep into
what might be considered the "traditional" monk vis-a-vis the
"non-traditional" monk. As one might suspect, the non-traditional
monk was the one who had jumped the walls and landed out in the
streets of this world.

But what interested me most in Mother Myriam's article was the
fact that she focused on the monastic archetype from a Jungian
perspective. Her analysis of this archetype, as put above, really
spoke to me. I can't speak for others, but years back I tried to
listen to the Spirit Within by seriously working with my dreams.
At a given period I had what the Native Americans call "Big Dreams."

These Big Dreams were of a totally different quality than my usual.
They were Numinous, special, and I knew they were really very
important. And it was with these special dreams that I was first
introduced to my Inner Monk. He was a helpmate during a period
of trouble for me. I guess that I had reached that "existential
emptiness" that Mother Labat had experienced--see (2) Provision
in this blog. I was standing on the edge of a cliff, looking into
Nowhere--and this Inner Monk, the Numinous, literally *saved* me!

During my dream-work I had to learn about the Archetype, about
the "Original Typos," about symbolism and many other facets that
move the psyche. Mother Myriam's first instance held true for me.
This Monk was Numinous. Secondly, however, after more work,
I realized that I was being drawn to live out the monastic archetype
as I could.

The emphasis for me was the "out" part. At first I felt I should try
to live the Benedictine lifestyle in lock-step. I was trying to thrust
a medieval system upon myself whilst living in a very challenging
modern world. My efforts did *not* mesh with my reality, hence
I had lots of trouble--and, in the end, felt a serious failure.

Happily I was rescued by a Benedictine Abbot who helped me
work through. He listened, he was gentle, and encouraged me
to understand that one's monastic calling nowadays might involve
new ways, new considerations, new environs. Monasticism,
itself, was changing for some--even while for others it remained
the same.

I longed for the "stability of the same," if you will. But that was not
to be my fate. Many monastic-driven people are now on the cusp
of the NEW. And for many, it's like traversing through unknown

Anyway, after many years trekking through--I realized that the
journey would be made easier by translating the major elements
of the Benedictine Tradition into a new language that addressed
the NEW. Interestingly, these major Benedictine elements
did not lose their power. They perhaps have gained power, at
least for me.

So, perhaps periodically I might look at these specific Benedictine
elements and illustrate how they might "work" in all sorts of

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

(3) Outreach

"Human development continues to the extent that the person
learns to deal creatively with a greater and greater diversity of
stimuli and to take initiatives according to a system of values,
which is personal, even if it is but a modification of the value
system of the social structure. These values include anticipations
of the future that have their roots deep in the past but are also
the expression of our own tastes."
[Rene Dubos, CELEBRATIONS OF LIFE, McGraw Hill, 1981, p. 72.]

Comment: The late Rene Dubos was a scientist and professor
at Rockefeller University as well as the founder of his Center for
Human Environments. He was also a Benedictine Oblate--a
secular member of the Benedictine Order, who lives and works
out in the world.

With Dubos we have a conscious effort to accommodate the
challenges of the modern world with the ethics and history found
in the Benedictine Tradition. In his book he does not announce
that he is connected with a particular religious tradition, rather
he straightway plunges into new approaches to old problems
that draw upon ancient wisdom.

This kind of effort is easier said than done, however. When I was
still young and foolish, full of spirited dreams about spreading
Benedictine wisdom, I have to admit that I oft made a mess of
things. Trying too hard, too fast, usually goes nowhere much at
all. I guess we have to wait patiently as the Benedictine value
system permeates your soul and starts percolating naturally.

But there's also the "other side" of this coin--that is being keenly
aware of your own experience, how you interface with the world in
which you live.

There's often the tendency on the part of immaturity to romp out
onto the streets and declare that you have "got it," the ultimate
Truth. Soon there's no one attending to your soap-box. So
beyond learning well, literally over a life-time the wisdom of the
Benedictines, one must blend such with your experience in the
world. And this is not done in isolation.

In the past there had been the tendency to isolate one's self,
often passing off "gazing at one's navel" as spiritual or religious.
However, contemplative practices need be connected with the
living of life. Oozing into a Greater All, never touching the
Ground, just doesn't do it anymore.

Over their history the Benedictines stressed a harmony that
blended the prayerful pursuit of God with that of working for
the world, enhancing Life. This is reflected in their lifestyle,
their emphasis and sharing of knowledge, their work in their
schools, their work in many professions outside the monastery.
And, now, with lay Benedictine Oblates they have an "Arm" that
carries on their Tradition out in the world.

I guess where I am trying to go with this is that, yes, it is proper
to follow the contemplative practices of monasticism--but it is
also necessary to practice outreach in the world, employing the
special elements that built the Benedictine infrastructure. It's
about Obedience, the call of the Spirit for most, it's about Stability,
serving as an anchor in community, and it's about *Conversio
Morum," evolving the Christ Life in yourself and in steady ways
for the development of society.

The Benedictine Way applies to both the inner and outer world,
which altogether is one!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

(2) Provision

"God has provided for everything. He did not want the thrust of
the Spirit in us to be in any way impeded or even reduced. Nor
did he want this great desire to embrace him to remain unawakened
in us."
[Elisabeth-Paule Labat, O.S.B., THE PRESENCE OF GOD, Paulist
Press, 1979, p. 89.]

Comment: Before Mother Labat became a Benedictine, she was
engaged in cultural pursuits, especially music and literature. However,
experiencing an existential "emptiness," she suddenly felt the Presence
of God in her life. Consequently, the thoughts expressed in her book
are her own, no doubt derived not only from her experience but also
refined by her Benedictine faith.

In my own case, I surely have experienced this special Presence in far
different ways. Probably this would be the case for others as well. So,
undoubtedly I might not agree with every pronouncement in Mother
Labat's book.

But one specific over which I agree is that, yes, I do believe that God
provides. Even as I look out on this complex world, out on the diversity
if its people, even of its incredible variety of life-forms, I do believe that
God made it such that all the needs of this planet could be answered
if we became more conscious of *who* we are!

Sometimes when I consider all the different psychological types we
are--i.e., Myers-Briggs--I can envision all the different mental styles
required to run this complicated world.

However I also consider seriously what Mother Labat says about
remaining "unawakened," when it comes to attending to the Spirit
Within. We need hone ourselves to *listen.* Listening is a primary
trait of the Benedictine monastic.

In the past we likely tried to listen, and usually translated any message
we might come to consider in mainly religious terms. Perhaps that
was an applicable way of considering the "thrust of the Spirit," but in
our own time I suspect we must expand upon any message we might
receive--and take it out into the world, to somehow address the world's
requirements needed to develop.

It would seem we are on the cusp of development, if you will. When it
comes to God's Presence, it sometimes seem we are stopped in our
tracks--looking back, rather than forward. Yet many of the great saints
in this world looked forward, in their own space and time. Sadly,
sometimes they were also punished. *Change* is difficult, and this
especially seems so within a religious context.

Yet, today, Change seems ever on the horizon, beckoning us to
work through such. But I do believe we need be very careful when
it comes to changing ourselves and our world. It kind of gets back
to the "Foundation" parable, in that it need be sturdy and dependable,
not built on shifting sands. Again we need listen keenly to the
Spirit dwelling within us.

As for myself--and I can only speak for myself--but I have been very
comfortable learning about God's Presence in Creation. For years I
worked as a docent naturalist, both in a museum's eco-literacy program
(for children) and out in the field at an estuary along the Pacific Flyway.
Studying more and more the Earth's natural systems, how they work,
indeed how they serve the planet's various life-forms, I eventually
became more and more incredulous how God has put all this together
to provide and serve Life.

On the other hand, there's still cruelty and death in Creation. It remains
hard to understand, yet I believe some day we will--and see what it
might mean, how such might actually fit.

But I have chosen the bright and beautiful side of God's Creation, and
(for me) I can see God's Presence in a wonderfully developing world.
Perhaps this is a way to "embrace" God. I know that I do, as I stand
watching great formations of birds come down to nest, to be safe, as
I stand on the beach, listening to the eternal pulse of the waves, waiting
for a glorious sunset and then the stars to shine in endless space.

These are only overt actions on my part, yet from that special *listening.*
But as I become more aware of the Presence Within, I have no doubt
that I will select far different ways to help provide for the needs of this
world. God Provides, I believe, through our conscious action(s).

Monday, May 11, 2009

(1) Grammatica

"There is no Benedictine life without literature. Not that literature
is an end, even a secondary end, of monastic life; but it is a
conditioning factor. In order to undertake one of the principal
occupations of the monk, it is necessary to know, to learn, and for
some, to teach *grammatica.*...And what does grammatica mean?
[It's the] art of grammar, which we call literature, is the science of
the things said by poets, historians, and orators; its principal
functions are: to write, to read, to understand, and to prove."
University Press, 1982, p. 17.]

Comment: I always enjoy reading this book by Jean Leclercq, one
of the great Benedictine scholars of our times. The book contains
a series of lectures given by Leclercq to monks at the Institute of
Monastic Studies at Sant' Anselmo in Rome more than fifty years ago.

What Dom Jean was talking about, when it comes to grammatica,
is probably nowadays what we might see in a "Liberal Studies."
program. Currently there are many major universities that offer a
Liberal Studies degree, whether at baccalaureate or graduate levels.

Of course contemporary grammatica goes beyond just the art
of grammar, though poets and historians are undoubtedly high
on its list.

As for myself, a professionally trained science and technology analyst,
once I retired I decided to take advantage of a Liberal Studies education
offered by one of my local universities. This program catered to adults,
to those especially in mid-career, as well as to folk like me who was
looking how to spend the rest of my life in a meaningful way.

These days grammatica has expanded into virtually all academic
disciplines--such as the Humanities, International Studies, and even
Science; and more than likely, in these Liberal Studies programs
the approach will be inter-disciplinary. Integral Learning has grown
by leaps-and-bounds, not only in Academe but also in Government
and the Corporate Sector.

Still monastic grammatica stressed something seriously important
to all these efforts in modern Liberal Studies. It was about becoming
a learned, broad-minded person. It was about becoming a careful
person, who honed his/her reasoning capacity, who learned how to
become more articulate in expressing what s/he learned. And, above
all, not to go off on an unproved tangent that could possibly do more
harm than good.

In a world such as ours today, we witness a lot of unproved
pronouncements that just take off and end, oft, in misery.
The Information Age, in which we live, has its pitfalls. But if
careful, prudent, learned, the Information Age has its benefits.

Therefore, maybe old as the hills, the monastic approach via
grammatica certainly provides a positive as we struggle to
be more careful, perhaps more controlled, when it comes to
living in this ever challenging world of ours.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Introduction: The Beacon

A beacon is about providing light, serving as a warning, as a
signal, as a guide. Spiritually it might be connected with the
idea of illumination leading towards understanding and

As for the "Benedictine Beacon," well it provided a light that
lasted nearly a thousand years--from 500 c.e. to 1500 c.e.,
working through the Dark Ages unto the Middle Ages up to
the Renaissance.

Chaos reigned following the demise of the Roman Empire.
Cities crumbled, schools and libraries disappeared, vandals
roamed through the countryside, and the darkness of
ignorance fell upon Europe.

In due course Benedictine monasteries began to light-up
this sad landscape. First there was the call for monks, most
illiterate but hoping for a more stable existence, hoping
somehow to serve God. A smaller group of monks were
among the very few to be educated. In time they developed
the monastic school, employing not only the infrastructure
provided in the Rule of St. Benedict, but eventually
copying Bibles in their scriptoriums. Over time, too, they
had secured the great pagan books of the Greco-Roman
Classical Period. And by copying these books, Benedictine
monks saved these works that ranged from philosophy to
medicine to natural studies for future generations.

The Benedictines also re-taught agricultural techniques
to the evolving peasantry. They introduced fisheries so
that people might learn better to provide for themselves.

Moving more into the Middle Ages, towns started to develop
near the monasteries. And the Benedictines started "outer"
schools for the local aristocracies. Above all, Benedictine
monks--through the installation of their monasteries--
christianized much of Europe. With this came the slow
return of Civilization.

But time moves on. The world in which we live today is far
more complex, highly technological, now mostly secular in
its orientation.

And where are the Benedictines in this modern milieu? They
are still around, only diminishing in numbers, growing older
on average. For a world of some six billion in population, it
has been said that today there probably are only some 10,000
Benedictine monks strung around the planet. And Benedictine
Sisters, as well, are disappearing and aging rapidly. The "call"
for vocations no longer seems to ring loudly in our ears.

Still, there does seem an interest in monastic spirituality.
Hence remaining monasteries now oft serve as retreat centers.
More than often their hospitality reflects a full house of visitors.
There seems a desire to take monastic spirituality home, back
to the personal life of individuals and families. Monasticism
is leaping over the walls, square into the streets of this world.

There seems a strange "transformation" going on. More and
more Benedictine monastics are publishing books that carry
forth their spiritual experience and their wisdom. And aboard
the Internet there's a keen interest in the monastic life--hence,
Benedictine communities have developed websites, even blogs!

So, aboard this blog site I've decided to share Benedictine
wisdom that might illuminate and provide commentaries on
such, trying to relate how this ancient monastic order and its
tenets might serve as a guiding beacon to our modern world.