Many of us have had or do have children or employees under our watch-care. How often have we expected of them an adherence to simple rules that we ourselves did not emulate in our private lives?
“Eat your vegetables,” “brush your teeth,” “finish your homework,” and of course, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all!” … while we ourselves struggled with the effects of poor nutritional choices and a crushing disorganization or a damaging tendency to gossip? All could have been repaired long ago if we had been obedient to our own good sense. “Eat your vegetables,” “brush your teeth,” “finish your homework,” is to them what “drink less coffee,” “get proper sleep,” “be on time,” and “don’t gossip” ought to be to us.
Here in this Abbey, change will take place, most of it gradually, and all of it in the direction of a closer walk with God, enhanced personal relationships, and a much more effectual life of prayer. We will begin to dwell in Christ in that settled down way that depends upon hearing and obeying, and upon the cultivation of an unfeigned love, of peace, and of joy.
Second rule of Cor Unum Abbey – You, in Christ, are the Superior of the monastery of your heart … and His Spirit will lead you in triumph.
How many, how colorful, how right, how desirable are the Lord’s strictures to us concerning personal responsibility! They range from the commandments given in the wilderness, from which we are not exempt until the law is fulfilled in love (Matthew 5:;17-20), to words that command the impossible:
Deuteronomy 28:1-7 … “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. (esv)
Luke 10:27 … And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (esv)
We know our love for God is not as whole as it could be, we know that we are not yet made perfect in love, but we don’t excuse ourselves from the pursuit, from the race … from the arena. As the Holy Spirit is given to help and inspire and strengthen, we enter into the training about which Paul spoke. (I like thinking of Paul as a man who knew how to “put up his dukes”!) There has never been a coach to compare with the Holy Spirit of God. He tells us how to make the wind work for us on every vault toward greater kindness. He goads us to run a little further or a little faster and tells us which spiritual muscles to call into greater service. He makes sure, if we will submit to his oversight, that we are properly nourished and rested, at least in Christ Jesus our Lord. What a heartbreak it would be to discover how far we might have gone with His instruction and preparation, if only we had shown up for practice!
Accordingly, I don’t run aimlessly but straight for the finish line; I don’t shadow-box but try to make every punch count. (1 Corinthians 9:226, CJB)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear . . . (1John 4:18, NIV)
We will remember continually that we are called to seek the Presence of the Lord and to find our pleasure in His nearness. Anyone might balk at the idea of doing more than an already busy life can manage, but it is invigorating to see the difference it makes when at last we put Christ Jesus first, when He has preeminence over all things, and not with lip-service only. Time begins to warp into plenty of time; effort begins to rejoice rather than repress our hearts, in the middle of grave difficulties, we catch ourselves smiling a knowing smile … indeed, we have been chosen to bear the image of our Lord in this life.
Those who are true monastics know that nothing must be practiced that takes away from the rightful joys and sanctity of marriage or parenthood or the honor of work and responsibility. No, the inclusion of a personal Divine Office, if it is really divine, enhances life and relationships. We seek the life to be found in that close place, that closet, of which the Lord Jesus spoke, the life that is manifest when we learn to find God here and find Him now and then begin to display the open reward of the discovery.
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6, NASB)
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun. (Psalm 37:3-6, NIV)
Much more than petitionary prayer will be discovered within these walls, of course. Marketplace Monastics have given up other things in order so to live, but they live well by happy standards, and what they do without is nothing that, in Christ, they would wish to retain. Family and fellowship and feasting and fun are all to be had – and let no one tell you that cloistered nuns do not enjoy all of those, as well, if perhaps on a smaller dietary scale!
Monastic pleasures are, to some degree, measured for those we will call “real” nuns, but the grand weight on the other side of the scale is practiced devotion to God and a boundless sense of His Nearness. They have, as Mother Mary Francis wrote, “a right to be merry,” as do we, the monastics of Cor Unum Abbey.
For us, when we set out to live lives of unfeigned devotion, some things will have to be replaced, because our lives are always full of whatever we do every day, even if it is patently nothing. For many it is overwork, for some it is excessive leisure and play, and for many, many others it is ennui, that elusive nothingness that makes one old and sad and useless and gives no account for itself.
Kiss that goodbye. We are meant to be ripe like fruit, lovely and luscious fruit on a healthy vine. The tomatoes in the garden or the potted plants on the back porch tell us, too many days without water will scorch the life out of a prize show of fruit or flower. We can learn much if we will investigate what it is that the monastics of this world, those in and those outside the cloister, do with the twenty-four hours they are given, for they certainly do find the spout of Living Water and plant themselves beneath.
We will look into many such lives, but above all, we will start living them!
Lest we be tempted in any way to say, “Some can, but I cannot,” the profound hope woven into these pages is that nothing will be written that cannot be catalogued under the express will and purpose of God … that we should seek Him with our whole hearts and love Him, heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves, and that we should take our places abiding in Christ and His Word in us. That we should learn to lose our souls that they might be found. All this must be possible to butcher and baker and candle-stick maker, to wife and mother, husband and father, to widows and college students, single parents and single men and women, even to those wondering in their hearts, where and how long before their hearts find a home. We may have this life of fruitfulness in and toward Christ Jesus, if we will.
Let us begin with this revelation from the Word of God: truly, hope deferred makes the heart sick. It is up to us to defer our hope no longer. Happily or tragically married or single, imprisoned or impaired, never was real hope to be found in any other than Christ Jesus and His Kingdom within our hearts. The one who seeks God and His astonishing Kingdom, will find.
Not only in Bethlehem, Connecticut, within the wall of Regina Laudis Abbey, but in many of the more enduring orders, it has been the more exacting practices that have prevailed, and a spot of exactitude might help us all, here in the workaday world they left behind. Let us follow a young postulant into cloister, and see if we, too, might not benefit from the manifold joys of a more disciplined devotional life.
The ancient monastery (10th century) of Sanahin, in Armenia
hansdewaele, by permission, Wikipedia