Monday, November 30, 2009

(55) Canterbury Pantocrator

Talking about a window at Canterbury Cathedral,
"For it is there in the centre and from it the window
still continues upward. First, the ascension, then
Pentecost, until the final panel shows Christ in
majesty, the pantocrator, seated on an orb, his right
hand upheld in blessing. *Solus ab eterno creo, cuneta
creata guberno.* Alone from eternity I create all things
and govern creation. Christ dominates the window as
he dominates the Rule.

"For the first offices of the day the light of the rising sun
would come streaming through that window. While this
for us today may be an aesthetic experience, for the
medieval onlooker it was much more. Of all the created
things which to them presented the image of the creator
in varying degrees, light was the most direct manifestation
of God. So not only did they stand daily in the presence
of a dramatic portrayal of the paschal mystery; they also
lived with the vision of the divine light transfiguring the
darkness of matter."
Liturgical Press, 1984, p.80.]

Comment: At the time of this publication, Esther de Waal
lived at Canterbury. She was the wife of the Dean of the

I was struck by her noting that the "first offices of the
day" were enveloped by the light of this window and the
great Pantocrator--the Lord of the Universe, the Cosmic

Not privy to our modern day technology and our current
understanding of Cosmology, I have to wonder how the
Benedictine monks at medieval Canterbury must have
pondered over the universe, their universe?

The world-view back then was far different, set pretty
much in concrete by the Church. It was a layered universe,
with the Earth at its center. It was a fairly complicated
world-view that strangely supported the Church. Alas,
when this world-view tumbled--after scientists were
condemned--some executed--we now have our solar
system, Earth along with its other planets whirling around
our little sun, one of billions in our galaxy, which is one
of millions in our universe.

So, where's the Pantocrator in all this? Big question, with
only a few modern takers trying to work through unto an
answer. But if we wish to continue the Benedictine quest
"seeking God," I imagine we might as well get started.
However, it might mean exercising our creativity in ways

Monday, November 23, 2009

(54) Intuition & Reason

"The experience of the subtle world depends on
intuitive insight...It is important to remember,
however, that in these investigations we do not
discard our reason. The method is to open
ourselves through intuition to these deeper
insights and then to try to understand them,
to relate them and appropriately to systematise
them through the reason. Reason and intutition
always have to be used together."
[Bede Griffiths, OSB (Cam), A NEW VISION OF
1989, p. 266.]

Comment: The late Bede Griffiths was a great
Benedictine soul, who spent many years in
monastic dialogue with Hindu thought. He
was steeped in contemplative experience, oft
based not only on meditation but also

Sometimes I wonder about our sense of intuition
when it comes towards our trying to understand
the Godhead. Probably if I really investigated
this as a project, I would encounter countless
paths--some familiar, most unfamiliar (at least
for me).

However, Fr. Bede blends the intuitive with our
capacity for reason. And that saves the day for
me. I'm not one to go off the deep end, so to speak.

On the other hand, reason can be too much of a
stern master--if we allow it. In the past, even
today, there was occasionally those who demanded
that Reason was the one and only! It was our new
toy, in that we had thrown our other capacities

But, happily, we have tired playing just with this
one new toy. We have returned to our other
toys, and are even discovering yet newer toys!

Okay--the "toys" are an analogy for our human
capabilities, wrapped in all sorts of potential.
And I do believe the spiritual milieu provides
a platform in which to play, play creatively!

Friday, November 20, 2009

(53) Truthfulness

"Realizing that we are always in God's presence, we strive
after truthfulness and reject deceit and hypocrisy."
Liturgical Press, 1980, p. 39.]

Comment: At the time of publication, Guy-Marie Oury was a
monk of the Abbey of Solesmes in France.

The above little sentence speaks of something immensely
important. Deceit is about deception--not just only about
deceiving someone else in an unseemly manner, but about
deceiving ourselves! We probably engage in self-deception
more than we realize. (Me? I'm guilty as charged.)

As to the "how and why" of self-deception, such remains a
private story for each and every individual. But when we do
engage in deceiving others, well that's another ball-of-wax.
There's all sorts of fraud. One that oft sticks out in our mind is
financial fraud. However, the one that sticks out in *my* mind
is spiritual fraud.

We have had many cases of fraudulent do-gooders, who oft
cover up financial fraud by preying on the spiritual good will
of believers. And it's not only cushioned in Religion, but also
in questionable charities. This all points to yet another issue:

People pretend to be who they are not, and such pretension
is usually connected with fraud. But this pretension, too, can
be connected with self-deception. In spiritual ways some of
us can presume a kind of "perfection" that gives them sway
over others, maybe even over themselves! Following specific
spiritual or religious prescriptions, we absolutely know that we
have "got it."

Maybe this is why I like the old Benedictine message that we
"stumble and get up again, over and over." There's a sincere
truthfulness in this old observation. There's also a practicality
in this, as I see it.

Being true to our self, admitting that we might stumble, reflects
our need to improve or to grow, to evolve. Via such truthfulness
we can become more conscious not only of our mistakes but
also of our potential.

There's that biblical adage about Truth that can set you free.
Of course, to be biblically correct, it's about understanding the
Truth of Jesus. Yet this adage has long morphed into other
meanings. But baseline, I believe, is becoming better towards
understanding the Truth about our self, about who we are,
about how we relate in this world, etc. Might take a lifetime,
but monastics realize this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

(52) The Malcontent

"My monastic Odyssey is not quite [an] edifying tale...I was
even as a boy, the sort of person who hid in a barrel and ate
green apples, as a man, the sort of official who quickly became
first mate and thought of mutiny. It has been my fate to stumble
constantly into the wrong camp; my life has been a continuous
political campaign, full of chaos and muddle."
[Dom Fabian Glencross, "Monastic Malcontent," a contribution
Maria Boulding (editor), St. Bede's Publications, 1970, p.137.]

Comment: I can empathize with the late Dom Fabian, a British
monk affiliated first with Downside and later with its spin-off,
Worth Abbey. He died in Peru, where Benedictines were yet
establishing a house in the "Third World."

Continuing, Dom Fabian put: "I am going to step into this world
and leave the rest behind...I have taken off my sixteenth-century
monastic costume because I cannot meet poor men, ordinary
men in a real world, dressed like a sober character in *Star Wars;*
ordinary Christians deserve to be treated with greater courtesy
and consideration. I find more and more that the people I came
to help know more about humility in the face of adversity,
about courage and self-discipline amid real personal difficulty,
than I have..."
[Ibid, p. 151.]

Just pondering, but maybe this malcontent monk might be the
face of the Benedictine future as it moves beyond the walls,
out into the world. Dom Fabian was an honest man, who did
not worship the forms but rather worked and lived in the *Real.*

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

(51) Malleable

"Unfortunately the Rule of Saint Benedict has been largely
lost to our time. While Benedictine abbeys and monasteries
still function throughout the world, their number and influence
are small. The Rule itself is written in a context and language
that means little to our secular culture. Very few of us share
the same world view or religious beliefs as Saint Benedict.
Almost none of us want to, or could, retire to a monastery.
Nevertheless, at the heart of the Rule is a core of truth about
the human condition. It contains a series of brilliant insights
concerning how one might make ordinary life into something
deeply fulfilling."
BENEDICTINE WAY OF LIVING, Morehouse Publishing,
1996, p. 4.]

Comment: As John McQuiston put, at the time his book was
published, he was a middle-aged lawyer who hadn't really
been very involved with spirituality nor the church. He
attended church, but it didn't seem to have an impact. Sounds

On the other hand, he had arrived at a point in his life where
he was looking for something "more." That sounds familiar, too!

Due to a small variety of circumstances, Mr. McQuiston
stumbled over St. Benedict. He and his wife had made a
visit to England and toured through Canterbury Cathedral.
While there he met some people connected with a group
called the "Canterbury Trust," which is an American support
group of the cathedral--and especially focuses on the ancient
Benedictine roots of the cathedral.

Upon return to the U.S., he kept in touch with the Canterbury
Trust--and through his association with the group, John
McQuiston decided to probe deeper into the Benedictine
Tradition by reading some of the recent books on such.

Mr. McQuiston readily admits that he still is not enamored by
church, however it would seem he fell in love with the
Benedictine Rule! Nonetheless, he realized that the cultural
milieu--as well as the language--out of which it came can
hold back modern people. So John McQuiston decided to
re-write major parts of the Benedictine Rule, whilst careful to
keep the meaning intact. He re-worked the Rule for people
who were looking for meaning, for a reasonable discipline to
follow, that would enrich their lives, that would still reflect
the relationship with the Holy.

For McQuiston, the Rule of Benedict can be transliterated to
be meaningful on an *universal* level, meaningful for anyone
who has eyes to see, ears to hear. So he set forth doing this,
and I believe successfully so!

I read through his little book and came away feeling that
McQuiston did *not* take away from St. Benedict's Rule.
Via modern language he makes the Rule far more accessible
to people unimagined, people out in the world who not only
have never (or rarely) set foot in a church, much less thought
much of anything about monasticism. Nicely, McQuiston
has brought forth the truth and humanity that Benedict's Rule

After reading through his little book, I felt that McQuiston's
effort has done no harm and, at the same time, has widened
the net--so to speak.

Maybe. as time rolls on, we will come to see that the
Benedictine Tradition can touch almost anyone, anywhere,
under any kind of circumstance. That's the kind of insight
that Benedict's little Rule provides. And it's malleable!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

(50) Pathfinders

"Bede had a new vision of reality: to transcend the cultural
limitations of the great religions that he saw had become
"fossilized" and to find a wisdom, a philosophy that can
reconcile differences and reveal the unity underlying all their
diversities. The need is to reclaim the 'perennial philosophy,'
the eternal wisdom in each religion. Bede was a seeker of unity.
His life's work was that of calling us to see the necessity of the
marriage of East and West...Bede often said 'My monastery is
the world.'"
[Sr. Maurus Allen, OSB, "Book Review: Bede Griffiths: Essential
Writings."] [Also, see Post 31, "Bede's Vision," in this blogsite.]

Comment: The late Sr. Maurus, OSB, was a member of the
Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. She spent some
time at the Shantivanam Ashram in India studying the con-
templative tradition in Christianity and Hinduism under the
guidance of Bede Griffiths, a Camaldolese Benedictine monk.
At Cullman, she taught Christian yoga.

It is becoming obvious that Benedictine monastics are surely
moving onto the "cutting edge" when it comes to their efforts
to learn, to seek spiritually. No doubt I will continue to come
across some of these "new" efforts as I work deeper into these
kind of Benedictine studies. (It's obvious that these efforts
towards monastic "unity" are now no longer new to pathfinding
Benedictine professed, but they are to me!)

In my own case perhaps I could call myself a "pathfinder," but
in a different way. I have spent more years than I can count
working into an equally new realm: Science and Spirituality.
Some pathfinder Benedictines have forged into this new arena
as well.

Fr. Bede was one, when he included a section called "Western
Science" in one of his books. Indeed, he welcomed Rupert
Sheldrake--a biologist from Cambridge University--to spend
some time at his ashram where he wrote his famous treatise on
morphogenetic fields. Such a new, cutting-edge concept, yet
Fr. Bede gave encouragement to the young biologist.

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB, and Fr. Thomas Matus, OSB (Cam),
were also pioneers when it came to an interchange with Fritjof
Capra discussing new explorations into Science and Spirituality.
No doubt as I plod along in the "Benedictine World" I will discover
yet more of these special Benedictine pathfinders!

It's just that I wish I could have discovered these monastic
pathfinders into the NEW years ago. Probably reflecting my
earlier ignorance of these special people, I forged alone
walking my own path. Indeed I felt guilty most of the time,
because my walk took me into territories that somehow
I felt must be "beyond the pale." And now, only to discover,
that all along we have had these Benedictine pathfinders!

My fault, no one to blame but myself. No longer, however.
Instead of blame, instead of wallowing in guilt, I will fully
enjoy tracking these "new" paths of the Benedictine

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

(49) Disciplines

"Author Richard Foster categorizes the classical spiritual
disciplines this way.
• Inward disciplines--meditation, prayer, fasting, study.
• Outward disciplines--simplicity, solitude, submission, service.
• Corporate disciplines--confession, worship, guidance, celebration."
[Loni Collins Pratt and Father Daniel Homan, OSB, BENEDICT'S
LoyolaPress, 2000, p. 196.]

Comment: Loni Pratt is a lay devotee of the Benedictine Tradition,
and Fr. Daniel has been a monk for decades. They have also
written a book on "Hospitality," and maybe more that I have yet to
discover. This particular book is very practical, especially for one
who aspires towards living out the tenets of Benedictine spirituality.

Browsing through this book, I was really pleased to find such a
succinct presentation of the "classical disciplines." It would seem
they are all there, in a nutshell. However, working through all
these disciplines involves a lifetime.

I thought it might be interesting going to the dictionary and
reviewing what all these disciplines (words) might mean.
"Meditation" is about contemplating, pondering, musing on a
given subject. "Prayer" is a solemn request or a notation of
gratitude. "Fasting" is about abstaining. "Study" is about
devoting time and effort towards acquiring knowledge.

"Simplicity" is being easy to understand or to do. "Solitude" is
about enjoying being alone. "Submission" is about yielding to
a superior force or authority. "Service" is an act of assistance.

"Confession" can be an admission of one's guilt, or it can be
a statement of one's principles or faith. "Worship" shows
reverence and adoration for a deity. "Guidance" is about
counsel or direction. "Celebration" is about engaging in
joyful activity.

Reviewing all the different meanings of these words (disciplines),
I have to admit participating in all of them. But I won't plague you
by going into any fine detail. I can only say that these disciplines,
if tried and shown true, are seriously a great helpmate towards
achieving successful living in one's life. Doesn't hurt at all
practicing these particular disciplines. They are useful.