Visiting monastics from far away will perhaps present themselves and wish to stay as guests in the monastery.
Life can present us with people, circumstance and ideas that may seem to us ‘far away’ from our own ideas and circumstance. Fixed ways of thinking and acting can have their pre-eminence challenged by what, at first, seems alien and strange.
While chapter 60 could be viewed as having within it the invitation to change as made to someone entering the monastery, this chapter sees this invitation being made to the monastic community itself. No one or community are at a place of full maturity. Life is a journey of maturing into love. A commitment to conversion is one that accepts that ideas and people similarly committed to maturing in love can come from anywhere. What is vital is that established community members be people who can see and experience love’s reality as this love meets them in the circumstances of their lives. This is as vital to us today as it was to the monks of Benedict’s time.
The experience of love, of fellowship and deep meaning, can be such a powerful one that the temptation can be that we change none of the circumstance and routine that, for us, hold this experience. Over time, if the connection between the experience and the circumstance of the experience is somehow lost, the danger is that we can be left with circumstance as a husk that people cling to because this is all they know. Christian life must always have its attention on Christ and be ready enough to be challenged and renewed by Christ – wherever Christ is and whenever Christ comes.
John Main stated that “the important contemporary message of monasticism” seemed to be “to show that tradition and experience are one in the moment of love” (1). At the heart of the Christian story is the mystical and thoroughly human experience of divine Love. To embrace Christ consciousness is to embrace this divine reality of love.
The WCCM, as a community committed to monastic and contemplative life and witness, is also a community committed to a suppleness of mind that makes it possible to flavour and reconnect the Christian story with the contemporary experience of Christ. Attention focused on the divine Love that is Christ nurtures a supple mind and heart.
Within the WCCM Meditatio House is committed to being a contemporary and communal expression of this work of loving attention. A regular meditation practice makes a supple mind and heart possible for all members of the WCCM. This suppleness is consistent with the Rule and something Benedict wanted to see in all his fellow monastics.
They may indeed with all humility and love make some reasonable criticisms or observations, which the prioress or abbot should prudently consider; it is possible that God guided them to the monastery for this very purpose.
Prudent, fair consideration is about having an intention that has been purified enough by our attention to the God who is divine Love. The community leader is someone who has enough experience in this to discern well enough when love and the invitation to change comes knocking. This is spiritually grounded leadership that is relevant for any community or group that aspires to live humanely, be it a family, a government, or a workplace. Prudent and supple leadership is what the world needs now more than ever.
Intention that has not been shaped by compassion and love can be too much influenced by an ego caught in disordered desire and fear. The ‘I want’ of a conscious mind not willing to take a risk that would see it grow in love can only go so far before it is exposed as ego-centred and fearful.
Yes, it can be a risk to be other-centred and loving. How we have lived to that point of risk can be challenged to change. What is waiting for us as we leave egocentricity behind, however, is the deep and abiding peace that living a life consistent with the life of love brings. Intending and deciding with a mind and heart shaped enough by attention on the love within us all can allow our work, our actions, to actually become God’s will. As this happens what we do can be a part of the greater tapestry of Love’s creativity in the world.
A man asked Lord Buddha ‘I want happiness.’ Lord Buddha said ‘First remove “I”, that’s ego. Then remove “want” that’s desire. Now you are left only with happiness.
It is perhaps the challenge of our lives to participate in the reordering of our inner lives from ‘I want’ to ‘love wants’. It is this challenge that this chapter, as well as so much of the Rule, focuses on. Happiness is living into the expression of what love wants. Much of the time ‘I want’ can propel us into an over active life motivated by compulsive intention. ‘Love wants’ is about the expression of being. The Rule is here to help us face the challenge of doing less and being more. The practice of meditation is consistent with this intention of the Rule.
(1) Monastery Without Walls, 12.