Saturday, August 29, 2009

(36) Great Needs

"Is there some new possibility, some other opening for the
Christian consciousness today? ...If there is, it will doubtless
have to meet the following great needs of man:

"First; His need for community, for a genuine relationship of
authentic love with his fellow man...

"Second; Man's need for an adequate understanding of his
everyday self in ordinary life...

"Third; Man's need for a whole and integral experience of his
own self on all its levels, bodily as well as imaginative,
emotional, intellectual, spiritual..."
Directions, 1968, p. 30.]

Comment: The late great monk, Thomas Merton, was a Trappist
who followed the Rule of St. Benedict. He was also a mighty
spiritual writer who inspired multiple generations. In this
particular book, he hit the nail-on-the-head when it came to
spelling out our deep human needs. These great needs of ours
follow us right into the present day. They seem rarely to change.
It's not just a "Christian" concern, either!

Regardless, Church has been perceived as the "Body of Christ,"
nearly like an organism of different parts, participants, building-up
Christ on this Earth. It seemed a magnificent promise, and some
still put their faith in it. Church is still perceived by its adherents as
a community, but I do wonder over its focus. Is it now more social
than spiritual? That remains a question for some. And what of
deep relationships in Church? For some, perhaps; for others,
barely a brush of human touch.

But Merton gets down to basics when he narrows down to the
individual. About this business of every day living, Merton seems
to be asking whether we really think it through. Do we dedicate
our self in some way to the way we live, react, respond, give, etc.?
Maybe some do, but I doubt very much that we start our day really
giving it much thought. Cynical? No, just human. I'm guilty, not
focusing as seriously as I should when it comes to the "daily."

As for the "ideal" self on all levels, well some of us surely have a
clue who we are. Sometimes it is simply experience and time that
brings us to this understanding. Sometimes it is deep thought and
contemplation, more the monastic orientation I suspect. But even
here, can most of us make our "ideal" real?

The answer would be, I imagine, by inputting our "ideal" into the
"daily." And surely some of us really do try. Monastics have been
trying for centuries. It's about what they call *Conversio Morum,*
a slow, hopefully steady conversion into the Christ Life--an Imago
that represent the finer, greater human qualities of our existence.
Others may hold different imagery that represent this inner "Ideal,"
if you will. But spelled out, comparatively speaking, it's about our
best qualities.

In the end, our "great needs" likely can only be alleviated by us--with
the help of God.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

(35) Remembering

The sun is setting, the wild life all around has grown quiet,
some watching this great blaze of Day swooping down into
the West. For nigh on 30 years I have been grasped by the
great Benedictine Tradition, whether in a monastery setting
or outside beyond the walls. But of late I have been
contemplating over all this that Life and Experience bring.
It brought me some wonderful people, like my oblate friend
Francis Jean, and especially my esteemed friend--once my
spiritual director--Abbot Leonard Vickers, of both
St. Anselm's Abbey, Washington, DC, and Douai Abbey,
Woolhampton, England (near Oxford).

Both of these special Benedictine friends have long passed
away. I still cherish them, and somehow in remembrance I
honor the great Benedictine soul that they represented.

Monday, August 10, 2009

(34) Francis Jean

"In this culture, is it possible to recover the gentle art of hospitality?
Is there a way to enliven it, a way to recreate it so that personal safety
is not at risk, but still the stranger is welcomed and honored?"
[Fr. Daniel Homan, O.S.B., and Loni Collins Prat, RADICAL
p. 15.]

Comment: Fr. Daniel has served as the prior of a Benedictine
monastery in Michigan, and Lonni Prat is a journalist who lives in
Michigan. Both lead retreats and workshops.

As for radical hospitality, I fully understand the question above
when it refers to a "personal safety" that might be involved. Years
ago when I lived on the East Coast I had a close friend, probably
close to 20 years older than me. She was a Benedictine Oblate
and we shared a lot, whether ideas, whether events, etc. Francis
Jean was a little bird of a woman, seeming always frail in some
way. But her eyes were luminous, her mind exciting. And upon
occasion, as we walked in different parts of the city we would
predictably encounter the homeless.

Me? Well I oft falter in many ways--and one is encountering
homeless men, who seem to threaten. They usually are begging;
and I have to say it straight, but sometimes they get in your face
and make demands. That kind of behavior frightens me, and I
usually have tried to avoid such situations.

But Francis Jean never budged. Rather she would pull out some
money from her pocketbook and hand it to the homeless beggar.
Maybe the lady was a saint, because the recipient somehow
changed his countenance, somehow understanding that what she
was doing was very special. I witnessed this situation many times
and always walked away incredulous.

Francis Jean is now long gone, but she had to be one of the most
beautiful Benedictine souls I ever knew. In today's world, being civil,
being hospitable might not really be very easy. But my good friend
just instinctively reacted, practicing one of the great traits of the
Benedictine Tradition. She had honed her soul in such a way
that her nature had become Benedictine without ever preaching,
but rather just doing.

Friday, August 7, 2009

(33) Being a Prayer

"To learn how to pray is not to learn new poetic words. To learn
how to pray is to learn how to pronounce your own sacred word--
go speak yourself! To learn to pray is not to learn some method.
It is to know who you are and to be who you are supposed to be!
You are prayer. You are a special and sacred word of God made
flesh. To pronounce your own unique word is to pray the most
beautiful--if not the holiest--of prayers."
[Quoting Father Ed Hays, by Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., in
PRAYER FORM, Image Books, 1982, p. 57.]

Comment: More years back than I wish to confess, I had occasion
to hear the Cistercian Basil Pennington give a talk on Centering
Prayer. Then a monk at Spencer, his abbot (I believe) then was
Thomas Keating, who eventually established a Centering Prayer
movement. I have tried Centering Prayer, but eventually I returned
to Father Hays idea about prayer--as quoted above.

Maybe I am just not that much of a contemplative, at least when it
comes to my prayer style. Indeed, when I read about prayer I oft
feel confused. I stand amazed at "true" contemplatives who follow
a totally dedicated life of meditative prayer. Perhaps I'm just too
much a practical person to understand this kind of dedication;
but, nonetheless, I honor such in others who can do it.

I guess I like Father Hay's approach to prayer, because I sincerely
believe that we are literally "consciousness points" in a living
universe in which the Holy is present, in which there is not only
vast systems of inter-relationship, but that ever present Connection
with That Beyond us. I suspect as Time moves on, if we are
fortunate enough to grow into ever Greater Understanding, we
will come to *know* ever better who we are--Part and Parcel of
the All of it, standing within the Whole, the Holy.

Hence I believe that our life "being a prayer" is singularly important.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

(32) Prayer Wheel

"Perhaps our assembling in choir at various intervals of the day, to
dedicate those times explicitly to the love of God and to renew our
own spiritual strength, is the greatest test of all. We have to be
unselfish enough to drop the work we are engaged upon, however
interesting, and go and be apparently 'unproductive' in church. We
have to make the serious effort to empty our minds of our pre-
occupations and have the dispositions of the poor in spirit, empty of
self, waiting on God."
[Dame Paula Fairlie, OSB, "Forshadowings" in A TOUCH OF GOD:
EIGHT MONASTIC JOURNEYS, St. Bede's Publications, 1982, p.116.]

Comment: At the time of publication, Dame Paula lived in Britain.
But Benedictine houses all over the world have their daily prayer
schedules, called their great work--"Opus Dei." I remember when
I first started reading books by Thomas Merton, a Trappist who
followed the Benedictine Rule and schedule, that he envisioned this
as the Great Prayer Wheel of the West.

I've visited monasteries, and have attended their scheduled prayer.
On the surface it does seem rather perfunctory--and maybe it is
for some, but for others it may serve as a means to move into
greater depths of prayer and reflection.

As for myself, being beyond the walls, it oft seems difficult to
maintain any sort of schedule. I do manage prayer in the morning
and night, which may be enough considering my circumstances.
Rather, the problem for me is about the "depth" of prayer. No
doubt I'm not alone when it comes to this situation, but I do feel
nagged over my lack of effort.

Sometimes I don't really feel that I am actually communing with
AnyOne. Is God really there, listening to my prayers? I certainly
hope so. Over the years nagging at myself, thinking about this
issue of prayer, I have come to the conclusion that if God truly
dwells within us, well then S/He knows our innermost thoughts,
and that really how we live forth our life is actually the most
significant prayer we can pray. How we respond to the urges of
the Spirit is also prayer. We are *listening* to God, who (I believe)
actually initiates communing with us. For me, there seems no
trouble listening to, discerning what I think are messages of the

Still, I nag at myself--really feeling inadequate when it comes to
initiating prayer towards God. It's like I'm not doing my part in this
relationship. So, maybe the traditional Benedictines have it right--
in that they schedule their prayer, engage in their great Prayer
Wheel, day in, day out. And being wise folk, they know that often
they are remiss when it comes to the depths of prayer, but they
continue and continue until it hopefully becomes a very rich
relationship between "Thou and me."