Monday, September 21, 2009

(43) Spiritual Authenticity

"The important thing, always, is that our experience in the
spiritual life be authentic."
[Jean-Marie Howe, OCSO, THE MONASTIC WAY, St. Bede's
Publications, 1989, p. 12.]

Comment: At the time of publication, Sr. Jean-Marie was the
abbess of a Trappistine abbey in Canada.

I certainly agree with her sentence, quoted above. But what
can I say about "spiritual authenticity"? It's like saying that every
one is different. Yes, there are communal environments behind
the walls, but definitely in these places there's still differences in
approach. And beyond the walls, our spiritual differences are
surely up front in our lives. We might read books about any
given monastic tradition, we might try hard to live by rote the
rules and regulations of a monastic system, but in the end we
have to face our own spiritual experience. And if we don't, well
I suspect down the road we will be in for some pain.

As for myself, well I felt the pain before I finally decided to get
on track with my own life's experience. And I hate to admit it,
but I was (and still am) a dreadfully slow learner.

But one thing that I have finally learned is that the Spirit will
keep knocking at your door, demanding that you follow
through authentically--or sometimes playing, when you enter
into its flow, providing a good sense of enthusiasm for any
"right" effort.

Sometimes when I am at peace with myself, I wonder why the
Spirit provides so many different ways for us to follow. Some
go inward, some lead an active life, and some (like the
Benedictines) strive towards balance when it comes to the
art of authentic living.

I guess we have to learn our way through. It can take a lot of
time and keen observation when it comes to figuring what
the Spirit may be asking in our life. Me? Well I still am not
sure I am on the right path. It's only with a smattering of
hindsight that I can see more clearly. It's just the Present--
and occasionally the Future--where I oft feel unsure.

Not speaking for others, but I seem to go through phases.
That's natural, I suppose, especially if you live long enough.
Indeed I have grown beyond even the development theories
put forth by academics and spiritual directors. We surprised
them by living longer.

Regardless, the Spirit doesn't stop prodding. At least that's my
experience! I guess we have our duty, our calling, right up to
our last breath. And the quicker we can move from spiritual
rote to spiritual authentic, the better off we will be! And who
knows, but this process might portend a much larger story
than our own.

Friday, September 18, 2009

(42) Test of Maturity

"Our ideals must surely be tested in the most radical way. We
cannot avoid this testing. Not only must we revise and renew
our idea of holiness and of Christian maturity (not fearing to cast
aside the illusions of our Christian childhood), but we may also
have to confront inadequate ideas of God and the Church."
[Thomas Merton, LIFE AND HOLINESS, Image Books, 1963, p. 46.]

Comment: Perhaps we might be surprised by what the great
Trappist said above; but, thinking about it, not really. Years after
his death, volumes of Merton's personal notes were finally published--
and they were a real eye-opener. Not one to remain long in the
mundane, Merton took to task a lot of worn-out ideas held by both
Tradition and Authority. In his later years it would seem he just got
tired toeing-the-line, so to speak. Nonetheless he remained true
to his monastic vocation, though at times sorely challenged.

Now long-in-the-tooth, I surely can relate to Merton's later years
of challenge and challenging. I had sad engagements and
disengagements when it came to religious Tradition and Authority.
Not very monastic, I suppose. But my spiritual childhood could not
prevail under the assault of spiritual maturity, no matter what the
rules and regulations might stipulate.

Still I can understand that for the most part--when it comes to
Institutional Religion--there need be rules and regulations in order
to hold together, to keep order, to provide a socially safe haven for
the greater good of its congregations. Not everyone can be presumed
a *Mature Merton.*

On the other hand, what happens when a person does begin to
mature when it comes to their religious or spiritual outlook? Where
do they go? Where are their companions going down a similar path?
Perhaps it is meant that each person in this situation need find their
own way. Some stay, some leave, when it comes to their familiar
religious environment. Some remain inside their old circle, some
seek other circles. For some it is a matter of "Accommodation," and
for others "Adventure." And for a few, it is somehow Both Together.
That's quite an achievement when it can be done, but Merton did it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

(41) Beyond the Pale

"Leisure introduces into every activity an element of play, an
element of doing whatever it be also for its own sake...Thus leisure
provides the climate in which one can be open for meaning."
[David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., A LISTENING HEART: THE ART OF
CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING," Crossroad, 1984, p. 26.]

Comment: Interesting, but I found this little gem about leisure
and play providing some small insight into a trip I soon will take.

Quite awhile ago I decided that I would no longer take any long
treks, far away, mainly because I felt that I had reached the point
where I might not be able to travel afar comfortably. Getting older,
so I was quite surprised when I decided to take this trip into a
remote canyon in Arizona. There's the natural beauty, of course,
but I was drawn to see yet another Sinaqua "ruin." Not a positive
known, but the Sinaqua are sometimes called the Western
Anasazi. They occasionally did occupy the same places as
the Anasazi.

Anyway, I had to wonder why I had decided to take yet another
"Anasazi" trip, if you will. Over the years I had visited sites of
these Ancient One's in Utah, New Mexico, and other places in
Arizona. Years back, when in the Santa Fe area I had special
dreams of these ancient Indians-the Early Pueblans--dancing
within my mind. Not visions, but rather persistent dreams!

In the midst of these encounters, I had special experiences as
well. So I have studied these mysterious Anasazi people--and
occasionally wondered why they were such a draw to me. I still
do not quite understand, but I am letting my "leisure" draw me
forth into this remote canyon.

And one morning recently I woke early, and suddenly all sorts
of ideas stormed into my mind. I'm a story-teller, focusing on
different spiritual, philosophical, and scientific perspectives.
And somehow I manage to blend all these perspectives into my
own God quest. Fascinating--but these ideas, that morning, nearly
composed a complete story that circled first around the Anasazi
unto the modern period, featuring a monk-psycholgist focusing
on the Psi Sciences.

These ideas storming into my mind leaped out-of-the-blue.
Mysterious, but fascinating! Strangely I felt strongly that this
forthcoming trip into that remote canyon, into yet another
stronghold of these ancient People, is somehow spiritually
significant for me.

My particular "leisure" in this case is about both spiritual
Mystery and Adventure. And believe it or not, that's what
Benedictines do! Seeking God involves wondrous paths that
oft can take us Beyond the Pale.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

(40) Death

"Death had lost its sting. We are free in the face of death because
we have put our stock in the deeper, unending life of the Spirit."
[M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., LIGHT FROM THE CLOISTER,
Paulist Press, 1991, p. 124.]

Comment: Recently I read online the obituary of an old friend of
mine--a tireless priest, who not only served his Church, but also
his country as a military chaplain. But above all he served God.

Born in 1918, he was just shy one month turning 91 years old.
He was an "old fashioned" priest, if you will--somewhat autocratic
in his ways. I never could figure whether it was because he was
a priest or whether it was because he was a "bird" Colonel (USAF,
Retired). Some folk did not love this priest, but incredibly I did.

Thinking back, it was kind of an odd relationship--between this
old priest and me. He was really very ultra-conservative in his
religious outlook, and I was anything but. Still I had to honor this
priest, because he stuck to serving God in the face of a lot of
adversity. I won't go into the problems this good priest faced,
some his fault, most no fault of his own. Through it all, I think
he tried to be gentle with others who were not so gentle with him.

But perhaps I was biased? Regardless, he has now passed on.
When he died, we were a continent apart. Having gone frail,
losing his eye-sight, we stopped corresponding. And at his age,
well the computer and e-mail were not part of his world.

His obituary said that he was lovingly cared for in his last days,
by younger members of his family. And he still enjoyed his
clerical life, enjoying a weekly meal with priests in a nearby

In an online "remembrance," I made mention that I enjoyed his
sermons/talks on Church History. Though he served as a parish
priest and military chaplain, he was most comfortable as a scholar.
He studied and received degrees from some fancy academic
institutions. This good priest got me started when it came to my
own interest in the history of the Church. (Warning, however,
history oft shows-up the blemishes as well as the bloom.)

Anyway, my priest friend was not a Benedictine, not even a
monastic, though in spite of all his experience in the world, he
was a solitary sort of fellow. I think sometimes this might have
made it tough for him, kind of going against the grain.

Now Fr. Bernie is gone, like so many other of my friends. Over
the years I have collected their obituaries--and the pile is growing
thicker. Of course this situation happens to all of us, sooner or
later. As for "Death," well it becomes more prominent. I cannot
say how I might respond when actually facing it myself. Yet I have
some good examples of these friends, who took their leave with

(39) Change & Commitment

"Because scientific explanations of natural phenomena
change so rapidly in the light of new knowledge it seems
that any understanding we may have of ourselves or the
human situation can only have limited and temporary
validity. Consequently, our time has become an age of the
half-hearted commitment..."
Crossroad, 1982, p. 90.]

Comment: The late John Main became a Benedictine monk
after serving in the Far East with the British Colonial Service.
He was also a specialist in International Law.

Though John Main wrote the above quote well over a quarter
century back, I believe his words still ring true. Most thinking
folk now know that we live on the cusp of a New Time. Since
World War II *technology* has proliferated; and, in turn,
technology has enabled scientists to observe more specifically
both the outer universe and the inner universe.

In my role as a philosophical story-teller, I recently put together
a short tale about a scientist who was trying to discover what
he called the "Plenum of the Universe." And what he discovered,
beyond the few seeming facts we believe we know, was that
we are barely fledglings when it comes even to what we think
we know! Indeed, it's rather shocking arriving at this conclusion--
as I did while researching for this story. (See the link for
"Sol Scientia" on the sidebar.)

Nonetheless, where--even what--would we human beings be
if we didn't ponder, try to investigate our Reality? Not very far
along, I suspect.

I can only speak for myself, but even before I decided to take
on Reality I seemed already to have a *deep faith* in the Lord
who holds the All altogether--as St. Paul put. Indeed it was this
faith that set me off on my own adventure, poking around in the
far corners of Reality.

Naturally I'm disappointed that we have only begun to cope
with the challenges of this New Time. On the other hand, I feel
that we are a privileged few generations that now stand on the
precipice of this great cusp--or gap that differentiates a lot of
what came before with what might come in the future. Generations
upon generations before seemed to move nearly in slow-motion
compared to how we are forced to move today.

I could go on and on about these differences, but rather I would
like to say something about the business of commitment. It's
obvious that the West has begun to experience institutional
breakdown--and it's not only in the monasteries, or in religions,
but also in our economic and even our academic institutions.
What once were perceived as bedrock havens seem to be
crumbling. And I'm not positive this fragmenting is necessarily
connected with our scientific observations--though, I do think
this situation might indeed be "natural."

Time changes! Change always takes place over Time. This
happens time and time again, no matter how we yearn and
seek security. Nature demands *adaptation* when it comes to
survival. Why, one might ask? Mainly its about evolving,
developing into "more" and maybe "better."

So what might any of this to do with commitment? Could be because
our institutions have not responded to our Time, if you will. They
have not adapted, much less evolved. So who shoulders the blame?
All of us, probably. If we cling to what is no longer relevant in our
lives, eventually we all pour down the drain. And others who no
longer place their stock in failing institutions have little choice but
to re-build and refine their purpose. Otherwise we become an
aimless people. Commitment towards the New would seem in
order, yet somehow retaining the better aspects of the Old. Not an
easy matter, this!

(38) Seeking God

Today--the Third of September--is a special day for me. No
need for details, only to remember generally how it all started
after I walked into a monastery one fine day. Like any human
endeavor, there were issues. But now years away, perhaps
viewing through a more mature prism, I am remembering far
more the good cheer and even adventures I experienced
"Seeking God."

It's a major mandate of the Benedictines, trying to find God
in the world, in your own life. When an oblate novice, I
worked through the Rule, through other Benedictine manuals,
figuring I would find God doing this. At the time, I felt
unsteady. Finally, nearly unconsciously, following my own
nature, I drifted into seeking God via study--serious study
with the Jesuits, of all people!

I have to give praise where praise is due. The Jesuits provided
me with intellectual adventure when it came to seeking God.
No apologies, but I found that my God queries were actually

God took my life, spinned me about, threw new ideas and
perspectives my way, made me think more deeply, and even
pushed me to travel. I sought beyond the books the places
where one might find God's footprints. I spent time in Israel,
following the life of Jesus as well as I could. Later I island
jumped, tracing the steps of St. Paul, finally ending at the
Hagia Sophia where I stood mezmerized by the Pantocrator
at the Emperor's Entrance.

Beyond this, I looked towards God anew--studying the
spirituality of the Red Road. Again, the need for the
physical touch, visiting the great parklands of the American
West where the indigenous People raised their arms in praise
and prayer towards the Great Spirit.

Over time I have written stories, little essays like this,
documenting my experience. So where has this "experience"
brought me, one may ask? Base-line, it has made me
immensely grateful that God came into my life. God
"fits" one's nature, in my view, and asks that one be
honest, going Due North, if you will.

As for my soul development, well if I hadn't walked into
that monastery that day so long ago, I would have to wonder
where I might be in life. As it stands, I am glad who I have
become, who I am.

As for seeking God, well I am grown-up enough to know
that God is a Mystery, far and beyond any of our human
concepts, yet *with us.* I cannot claim that I am perfectly
God possessed, meeting other's standards, but I can claim
some semblance of integrity when it comes to my love of
God. I just love more and more seeking God, in more and
more different ways!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

(37) Weakness

"Most important is the place of personal weakness in Benedictine
spirituality. This is only a 'little Rule,' Benedict wrote. 'For Beginners.'
And nothing 'harsh or burdensome' is prescribed (RB 73). This is a
rule for you and me, in other words."

Reading over these above lines by this good Benedictine sister,
I nearly sighed with relief. Maybe it is about living too long, but I
see ever more clearly my own weakness. Happily, I've also lived
long enough finally not dwelling on such as much. And ultimately
I was able to turn my perceived weakness into a strength. However,
earlier in my life I used to browbeat myself for not being the perfect
little Benedictine.

When I first encountered St. Benedict's Rule, I didn't see it with any
sense of ease. I was rough on myself, trying to live out every word,
every letter, as perfectly as possible. Rigid! Rigid! Until I began to
feel a "dis" ease if you will. No longer comfortable, suffering from the
guilt of not being able, sad because of my stumbling, I felt a failure.

That's when I finally took myself to a spiritual director, who at the
time was my good Abbot. He brought a Benedictine *cheerfulness*
into my life. No great pronouncements, but rather a simplicity on
his part. He listened, and by doing so he taught me that it was all
right to be weak. We all start out as fledglings.

I only had a few years with my good Abbot. He died in his prime.
But he left me with enduring memories, especially those of kindness,
consideration, and love. For me, he reflected well the Christ Life.

As for myself, I was of a different nature. And that's something that
finally I had come to understand. My good Abbot had the nature
of a Father. I have more the nature of a Solitary. He realized that
and probably wondered why I was attracted to the Benedictine

It was about my "great need" to belong to a *community.* He
pointed out that, yes, I was a natural solitary--but all along I had
belonged to one community or another. I was not a hermit. I
belonged to the community of my universities, of my workplace,
of Church, and of my monastery. And later to those special
volunteer communities wherein I served.

My perceived weakness was feeling detached in the midst of
community, even when serving intensely. It always lingered as
a serious defect, or so I felt.

But my good Abbot helped me turn around this sense of weakness,
and actually turn it into a strength. By nature I was introspective,
but with help from many I was able to turn this introspection into
contemplation. A research scholar, which is more often a solitary
pursuit, I came to realize that over the years I had dedicated my
efforts towards the *service* of the Greater Community. And later
I dedicated my solitary research capacities towards trying better to
understand the Greater Reality that stands behind the All of it.

In the end I turned my longing, my loneliness, into solitude.
And one day I woke-up and felt that warm cheerfulness within
me that I once witnessed in my good Benedictine abbot.