And so we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service. In doing so, we hope to demand nothing that is harsh, nothing oppressive. Even if, in order to maintain a balance, there are some slight restrictions aimed at the correction of errors and the preservation of love, you should not for that reason be frightened off and run away from the path of salvation, which has to be narrow at the beginning. As we make progress in our way of life and in faith, as our hearts expand with the inexpressible sweetness of love, we shall run along the path of God’s commandments, never abandoning his guidance but persevering in his teaching within the monastery until death, so that we may have a share, through patience, in the sufferings of Christ and thereby also a share in his kingdom. Amen.
The human journey is about learning and changing. A community is a school of love in which this human journey can happen. Our relationships are not meant to be static; they are here to stretch and coax our hearts, to help us come to experience our hearts at greater depth. We come to live life through the vision of an expanding heart. No matter what our circumstance, no matter what our relationships are and are becoming – if we are learning to let go into the heart of love we will come to experience a sweetness to life that defies logic.
Sometimes this sweetness, this ‘slow burn joy’, is born in us only after life and relationship fall apart. Sometimes falling apart is the only way we can let go. The Rule and community can be a support as we fall apart, a support as we suffer. In this patience can grow and Christ suffers with us.
Sometimes this joy is felt strongly. It can be experienced as a delight that we ‘have’ and then can ‘lose’. Where has it gone? What have we done wrong? We are learning that living from the heart is less about feeling and more about persevering in a letting go into love. Yes, there will be joy and other times no. This is part of life. The spiritual life is not, ultimately, about feeling good. It is about remaining consciously in love. Joy is a fruit of this that mysteriously grows by itself. In time, like peace, we do not go after it; it is just there, mostly in the background with a life of its own. It has been completed in the joy of Jesus.
I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. (John 15: 9-11)
As the prologue makes clear, an expanding heart happens when we are forgetting ourselves. Forgetting ourselves is living life less self-consciously. The Rule sets up a practice and a framework designed to foster attention into the heart and away from self-consciousness (ego). We grow in living life consciously, that is, without thinking about it or having to imagine it first. As this happens, love happens.
When we are attentive, be it to a kiss, to picking up the milk, to a loved one and their day; on cooking a meal, sweeping the floor; on whatever is in front of us, love has a chance to incarnate in the world. This too is what meditation is about as we practice attending to the mantra.
Passing through the narrowness of losing self-consciousness, in the everyday that is prayer, can feel like a risk, a constriction. The Rule is clear about this. However, we are asked to trust and remain faithful to this way of love that the Rule safeguards and grace grows us in. Life doesn’t have to be about thinking and feeling as the preservers of identity. It is possible, in time, to let go of our attachments to these and to be simply loving.
Always be joyful, then, in the Lord; I repeat, be joyful. Let your good sense be obvious to everybody. The Lord is near. Never worry about anything; but tell God all your desires of every kind in prayer and petition shot through with gratitude, and the peace of God which is beyond our understanding will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)