Wednesday, December 16, 2009

(57) Renewal

"Wax and wane it will...the monastics say it this way:
A pilgrim was walking along a road when one day he
passed what seemed to be a monk sitting in a field.
Nearby, men were working on a stone building.
'You look like a monk,' the pilgrim said.
'I am that,' said the monk.
'Who is that working on the abbey?'
'My monks,' said the man. 'I am the abbot.'
'Oh, that's wonderful.' the pilgrim said, 'It's so good to
see a monastery going up.'
'We're tearing it down.' the abbot said.
'Tearing it down?' the pilgrim cried, 'Whatever for?'
'So we can see the sun rise at dawn,' the abbot said.

To lose something is often to renew it."
[Joan Chittister, O.S.B., THE FIRE IN THESE ASHES:
1995, p. 77.]

Comment: Sr. Joan is a famous Benedictine, belonging
to a priory in Erie, PA. She has authored a number of books,
and this particular book is about the decline of the religious
orders--in that their numbers are dwindling, and their average
age is rising. Sr. Joan has hope and ideas how this situation
might be curtailed. But it has been some time since the
above book was published, and the decline continues.

I used to say "alas," after such a remark. But lately I have
been re-thinking this situation. First of all, the decline seems
"historical." It does not seem a temporary matter, though some
hoped it would be. It appears to be an on-going event (or

However, viewed as "historical," I have to wonder whether
the Spirit is devising new ways to be a monastic or religious.
Perhaps the hope for "renewal" might eventually be placed far
beyond the walls of a monastery--even beyond a particular
group or organization.

Still just pondering, but more and more there's continuous
emphasis on the religious life, the monastic, out-in-the-world.
Monastic forums, even back in the 1980s, talked about the
"New Monk" as described in Raimundo Panikkar's book
ARCHETYPE. Lots of ideas have surfaced during these
forums, and in monastic articles ever since.

Whether devised or accidental, these past three decades
many of the best monastic minds have essentially been
writing for a wide consumption of readers, who live outside
the walls. In effect their books are explaining their Tradition.

Once it was thought in Panikkar's forum that perhaps
monasteries could be like teaching facilities, enabling the
"New Monk" when it came to any serious monastic formation.
As far as I know, this hasn't happened in any depth--though
secular members of religious and monastic orders do receive
at least the rudiments.

Regardless, I am beginning to believe--whether unconsciously,
whether consciously--Benedictine monks and nuns have
definitely been spreading their Tradition's teachings through
the written word. And, in the end, this may be the best course
to take!

Not everybody can journey to a monastery, but they can
pick-up a book. Also, nowadays, we live in an expansive
world of Communications, where one can just flick on the
computer. In the old days one could trudge to the library or
the bookstore, but now it's easier switching to the Internet.

Anyway, the Benedictines have been busy--long building
websites, attending Net discussion groups, putting their
articles and abstracts online, advertising their upcoming books.
They seem nearly a "natural" in this world of Communication.
Why not, these are the folk who started the whole thing--way
back--with their scriptoriums!

In the end, these "historical" events could end-up strangely
surprising. Renewal is hopeful, but not predictable.

Friday, December 4, 2009

(56) A Book most Worthy

Awhile back I came across a really excellent book, as put:
SPIRITUALITY IN HISTORY,Liturgical Press, 2007.]

Comment: For now I am not going to focus on something
specific in this book, but rather generally approach it. Laura
Swan, O.S.B. is a writer and spiritual director, and a member
of a Benedictine priory in Washington State.

As the editor of this book, she must have brought together
some of the best Benedictine minds when it comes to their
traditional history. The forepart of the book focuses on
those historical Benedictines who provided the supportive
foundations of their tradition. The articles are beautifully
written, very complete--and are also beautifully spiritual.
It's a good "read" all through!

If I may, I'll list the contents:
• Benedict and Scholastica.
• The Venerable Bede, Monk of Jarrow.
• Romuald of Ravenna.
• Anselm of Canterbury.
• Bernard of Clairvaux.
• Hildegard of Bingen.
• Gertrud the Great of Helfta.
• Dame Gertrude More.
• Blessed Columba Marmion.
* Raissa Maritain.
* Bede Griffiths.
• Trappist Martyrs of Tibhirine, Algeria.
• Benedictines and the Chant Tradition.
• Conference of Benedictine Prioresses.

And I especially appreciated the extensive treatment of the
"Chant." In recent years the Benedictine Monks of Santo
Domingo de Silos reintroduced the Chant to the world--and
from their CD sales, the world has loved it!

One of my younger family members is a fairly accomplished
musician, mainly popular music. But once he heard the
Chant he was hooked. He could not get enough of it. So
it would seem there is something that is deeply attractive
about the Chant, drawing people unexpected into its quiet,
soft repose.

Also, I liked the introductory and afterword remarks in this
book--because the writers realized that there is a "future" for
the Benedictine Tradition, in that in some strangely wonderful
way, the special spirituality of the Benedictines is also drawing
people unexpected.