The reality of something can often be different from how we might have imagined it. This is no less true for our relational commitments. Rather than jumping in at ‘the deep end’, Benedict asks that people interested in the monastic life enter into a process of testing their motivations as they ease into the reality of what they might commit to.
These words from Frederick Buechner speak into the heart of the process of discernment outlined in this chapter. It can be a tough thing to ‘pick and stick’ to a commitment. If we are to remain in any life decision, the groundwork done needs to be thorough and solid enough.
Deep is calling to deep in the roar of your waters (Psalm 42:7).
In the end, the discovery of a deep and abiding gladness, a gladness that finds purpose in service to the world’s deep hunger for love and meaning, this is what needs to be discovered and embraced. This chapter is asking the question ‘is your deep gladness found in a contemplative and monastic serving of a hungry world?’
If therefore, the newcomer keepeth on knocking, and after four or five days it is seen that he [sic] patiently beareth the harsh treatment offered him and the difficulty of admission, and that he perservereth in his [sic] request, let admission be granted…
Being persistent can help us in coming to an experience of our deepest heart longings, the coming to know what we (that is, our deep Self and Divine Love together) want. In persistence can be found the characteristics needed to persevere in commitment, characteristics such as endurance, resolve, and diligence. The monastery, in delaying admittance, is looking for enough maturity in the seeker so they may at least begin an engagement with the Rule and the contemplative life.
There is something reminiscent here of the Buddhist wisdom of walking between praise and blame. The delay in admission can show up in the seeker any immediate reactions or sensitivities that may have more to do with being lost in ego attachment rather than a readiness to patiently persist. Christianity, at its best, like Buddhism, is about walking a middle way. Am I doing something to be praised for it? Do I react to delay as a rejection of myself (blame)? In the middle is a responding to life rather than an egoic reaction that craves attention or plots rejection.
Upon admittance, a wise senior will
…observe him [sic] with great care and see whether he really seeks God, whether he is eager for the work of God, obedience and trials. Let him be shown all the hard and rugged things through which we pass on to God.
This is the work of ‘leaving self behind’ (Mt 16:24-27; Mk 8:34-38; Lk 9:23- 26). This is not a rejection or denial of the heart, of our basic humanity and the deepest parts of ourselves. It is instead about the commitment to transcending, or going beyond, the ego. It is the ego that can come between attention and God and have us believe that it is god. The whole focus of the Rule, as with meditation, is that we practice going beyond ego and into God. This is what the seeking of God is about. The communal experience, when genuine, will ask that our ego projects of attention seeking be stripped away as we seek instead God. To discern more or less truly we must get beyond ego enough.
Our commitments are the crucible of a lifetime which expose and shape character. They reveal the true motivations of our decisions to commit. Will the newcomer be stable enough in this crucible experience to stay with it as time and circumstance go on?
And so this chapter is about the art of true discernment.
So the tree of charity is nurtured in humility and branches out in true discernment. The marrow of the tree (that is, loving charity within the soul) is patience, a sure sign that I [God] am in her and that she is united with me. (Catherine of Sienna).
A humble patience is central to any effective discernment and a core element in a growing unity with God, or Divine Love. Chapter 58 has this patience at its heart. Living in community (where we find it) and the practice of meditation develop this patience as foundational to our character and life.