A Monk in the World

SILENCE

EACH MONTH IN MONK IN THE WORLD WE ARE LEARNING THE PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIAN MONASTICISM AND HOW WE CAN APPLY THEM TO OUR LIVES OUTSIDE THE MONASTERY WALLS.

 

There are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence. ~ The Rule of Benedict

I kept quiet, not saying a word, not even about anything good! ~ Psalm 39:2 (GNT) 

Words, words, words… They are everywhere! Billboards, sides of buildings, flashing street signs, bumper stickers in traffic, even the sky isn’t immune with its skywriters and planes tugging advertisement banners. The plethora of words in our world dilute their meaning to the point of overload and burnout!

Where in the world can one go to find silence?

Even if we find a place with the precious quiet we’re craving we still have the noise in our mind to deal with. We must somehow change the internal noise into a gentler sound.

The one who sits in solitude and quiet has escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, and seeing; yet against one thing shall he continually battle: that is his own heart. ~ Anthony of Egypt*

As our body needs rest, our spirit needs silence for our inner life to grow. When we keep out the weeds (noise) the garden of our soul can flourish. Too many words can hinder our relationship with God, preventing us from hearing the most important Word of all!  

Spiritual growth requires insights that only solitude and silence can provide. No one can do this work for us. We must be intentional to build times of silence into our day. It won’t happen otherwise.  

In Buddhist countries children routinely spend time with monks and are taught to sit in the lotus position and learn to meditate. Quaker communities also have silence as a regular part of their daily routine. 

Who is teaching us or our children how to sit in silence? Instead of hiding away in our prayer closet we must include our children and grand children in our practice of silence. They will learn best by watching our example.

If you are unaccustomed to silence (I was and most people are) begin with a simple plan. You may choose an activity that can be done in quiet: gardening, painting, walking or cooking. You may just want to sit. Either way start out small. If you want five minutes of silence, give yourself ten minutes. You will need the buffer time to get settled in. Gradually you will add more time. Before you know it you will prefer the silence!

Silence is an indispensable discipline in the spiritual life. It is our portable monastic cell that we take with us into the world to minister to others. 

RESOURCES:
The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence by Henri J.M. Nouwen
Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life by Abbot Christopher Jamison*
The Path of Life by Cyprian Smith OSB
The Rule of Benedict Edited by Timothy Fry, OSB
The Oblate Life Edited by Gervase Holdaway OSB
Originally published September 10, 2014

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Running Away from the Now.

When I was growing up my father was an alcoholic. Our home life was stressful and unpredictable so I developed a coping mechanism to escape the painful reality of my daily life. My personal escape mechanism was fantasy. I created invisible friends who kept me company when lonely and scared. Fantasy served me well in my childhood but later as an adult it became an unhealthy escape.

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Though fantasy escape is no longer a issue for me, I still struggle with wanting to avoid the painful realities of daily life. In the last 50+ years I’ve made the rounds of the common addictive substances/behaviors: drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sexual addiction, gambling, shopping, television, and food.

In this most recent season of recovery I’m giving up something that I have to witness someone else using on a regular basis. At first this was extremely difficult and maddening. It’s getting easier as time goes by, but some days are still hard. At the same time I was getting sober from this substance both of my elderly dogs died within a few weeks of each other. The emotional pain was so intense I wanted to run away. But I couldn’t.

Most of my life I’ve avoided feeling anything really. The bad was numbed with some substance. And the good was also numbed with a celebratory substance. So I grew up not knowing how to feel. Now in my late 50’s I’m in one of the most difficult seasons of life and facing it completely sober.

To be honest, I’ve cried a lot and I’ve yelled at God. But ultimately what has helped me the most has been just sitting quietly in God’s presence. I’m learning how to accept this moment, one moment at a time.

Life may not get any easier, but I’m learning new ways to cope with my pain. I’m avoiding television programing that highlights escapist lifestyles and replacing them with encouraging audio books and podcasts, listening to liturgical prayers, reading scripture, journaling, and writing this blog. It’s vital to have a creative outlet to help process feelings.

When we escape this moment we are running from the only life we have.

Are you always seeking escape? Do you often want to fly far, far away?

 

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I’m learning to practice gratitude more in my life. Here is a chart that has some great tips on how to implement gratitude in your life. I hope you will find it beneficial because the benefits of gratitude are great!

 

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Image credit: JodieGale.com

The Tree of Contemplative Practices infographic is a great introduction to the variety of contemplative practices you can choose from. We will be learning about and implementing many of these on our contemplative recovery journey. I hope you will take some time to familiarize yourself with them. These practices come from several wisdom traditions, but each can be translated over to the Christian contemplative tradition.

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The Art of Suffering

Finding an easier way to get through the pain.

We all endure suffering and handle it differently. Suffering has many levels and can be expressed in various emotions and behaviors. It can be very painful, even destructive to relationships. What can we possibly do to get through this difficult time in a healthier way?

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What is suffering for you may not be suffering for me. What is suffering for me today may not be suffering for me tomorrow.

To the degree that we surrender to our suffering is the degree that we will grow stronger spiritually.

The idea seems simple but it’s difficult and even painful to walk out.

As a recovering addict, I am usually trying to avoid pain at all cost. But I’m finally learning the more I fight the pain and suffering, the more I try to run from it, to avoid it, to remove it… the worse it gets and the longer it may last.

If we can find our way to accept the moment and its lesson for us, trusting that there is something better on the other side of the suffering, we are closer to the Peace of God that passes all understanding.

When I surrender to what this moment brings I am accepting God’s providence. By trusting Him, I am loving Him.

 

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You may be unfamiliar with the practice of Centering Prayer. It is very similar to meditation, but rather than focusing on emptying our mind in the stillness, Centering Prayer brings our relationship with God to the center of our inner stillness.

As a recovering addict, I have found centering prayer quite helpful especially in time of stress, when dealing with triggers and so forth. It is a valuable practice for any one interested in pursuing a more contemplative lifestyle.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and watch this excellent introduction to the contemplative practice of Centering Prayer. Father Keating is wonderful to watch and listen to. I hope you will be as blessed by his teaching as I have.

Father Thomas Keating, the founder of the Centering Prayer movement, is an author, teacher and monk who has worked for many years to foster understanding among the world’s religion. A member of the Cistercian Order in the Benedictine tradition, Father Keating lives at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.

Painful Obedience

 

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God has asked me to give up something and honestly I’m not at all happy about it. However, I know if I don’t obey the consequences could be severe, maybe even irreversible. 


So I have no choice but to trust God’s will as I press through the pain. 


The most difficult challenge is that while giving up this habit / behavior I’m living in an environment where I see it every day. 


No matter how tough,  it’s vital that I intentionally keep a good attitude expecting God’s blessing on the other side of this mountain.  

If you’ll willingly obey, you’ll feast like kings. But if you’re willful and stubborn, you’ll die like dogs. ~ Isaiah 1:19-20 MSG

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PAIN MEMORY

If enough time goes by we often forget the pain and repeat the behavior.

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All of us make mistakes. We hope to learn from our failures and not repeat them. Unfortunately, for most of us this isn’t the case. We seem doomed to go round and round our mountains until we’ve worn a deep trench that resembles a castle moat.

It dawned on me one day that we have pain memory but it doesn’t seem to last very long. We remember when we touched that hot stove not to do it again. 


Why can’t we remember emotional pain causing events? 

What about bad habits that we allow to creep back in and again cause us the same old pain from before. 

 

Scripture likens humans to sheep, who are very dumb animals, cute but dumb. If the sheep didn’t have their shepherd to follow they would literally walk off the cliff. The leader would start off the cliff and the others would follow. Now that’s dumb. Sound familiar?

We may see someone doing something that looks like fun and follow them only to find a cliff edge waiting. Forget about following others. We can follow our own nose right off the cliff. 

An important difference between humans and other animals is our ability to make conscious choices. Just following our sensory perceptions: sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing; can easily get us into trouble. But if we can be more aware in the moment, making conscious choices, we will be better off.

The problem is we are dumb sheep and get distracted easily. Before we know it we are at that cliff edge again.

The key is in who and what we are following. This is a daily, hourly, even momentary discipline that must be intentionally practiced.  

Who / What am I following today?

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A MONK IN THE WORLD

The Liturgy of the Hours

IN MONK IN THE WORLD WE ARE LEARNING THE PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIAN MONASTICISM AND HOW WE CAN APPLY THEM TO OUR LIVES OUTSIDE THE MONASTERY WALLS.  

 

THIS MONTH’S TOPIC IS THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS.

 

One thing that attracted me most to Benedictine spirituality is the custom of praying The Liturgy of the Hours.  Fixed-hour prayer has its origins in Judaism from which Christianity came and is still widely used today. The connection to this ancient practice is fascinating to me and draws me in with an incredible sense of unity to my spiritual family.

In a previous blog I wrote a book review on The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.  Ms. Tickle has done a marvelous job compiling scripture and prayers for daily use built around the seasons of the year. If you are just learning about this type of prayer routine Phyllis Tickle’s books are an excellent place to start.

By far my favorite way to pray the hours is with my iPhone app The Divine Office.  This wonderful ministry has developed beautiful productions of worship experiences and brought them to us via technology.  Not to worry, if you don’t have a smart phone you can still participate through their website.

What an incredible experience to join the live recording and gather with a world-wide community who are praying together. This takes Christian community worship to a whole different level!  As the earth rotates and each time slot changes we pass on the prayers like a baton to the next time zone.  I find this such a sweet thing to imagine. I’ve been using The Divine Office app for 2 years and look forward to hearing the now familiar voices each day.

As a recovering addict this prayer routine has been a great tool especially in rough times. When I can rotate my day around praying the Psalms it helps to push out things of the world by keeping my heart and mind focused on transformation.

I encourage you to consider praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  It has given my prayer life new direction, energy and purpose.


RESOURCES: 
The Benedictine Handbook Liturgical Press 2003
The Divine Hours: A Manual for Prayer by Phyllis Tickle
Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monks Insights for a Balanced Life by Lonni Pratt and Fr. Daniel Homan
How to be a Monastic and Not Leave Your Day Job: An Invitation to Oblate Life by Benet Tvedten
Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants by Dennis Okholm
St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living by Jane Tomaine**
Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal

The 12 Steps of Humility

RESTRAIN SPEECH

EACH MONTH IN THE 12 STEPS OF HUMILITY WE ARE CLIMBING SAINT BENEDICT’S LADDER OF HUMILITY.  WITH EACH RUNG WE COME CLOSER TO THE PERFECT LOVE OF GOD.

 

The ladder is our life on earth, if we humble our heart God will raise it to heaven. ~ St. Benedict 

 

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THE ELEVENTH STEP OF HUMILITY:  

A monk speaks gently, without laughter, with modesty, briefly and reasonably without raising [her] voice. ~The Rule of Saint Benedict

Speak concisely, say much in few words; be as one who knows and yet holds [her] tongue.~Sirach 32:8

This is the third step where Benedict addresses communication. Step Nine calls us to listen more than we speak, followed by Step Ten which asks us not to be excessive in our laughter.  Today we are encouraged to be brief and gentle when we speak. 

 
When I grew up we were taught “If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything at all.”  This might be considered a modern version of St. Benedict’s 11th Step of Humility.
 
By restraining our speech we are putting others before ourselves, allowing them to share something of themselves, honoring them with our attentiveness.
 

Much of the time when someone is talking to us we are too busy in our mind crafting our fabulous response. St. Benedict asks us to restrain our speech with a humble, honoring attitude toward others.

Having listened attentively to the other we can now have our say. We aren’t to be boisterous, bragging or loud. The best rule of thumb might be to remember to respond vs. react.

When we are reactive we are being led by our emotions. But by responding we have given more thought to the words we will say.

This is often difficult and must be practiced consistently for it to become a natural habit, especially with those we are closest to.

Again Saint Benedict comes to us with words of wisdom from an ancient time that are vital to our lives today!

 
 
RESOURCES:
The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century by Joan Chittister
Twelve Steps to Inner Freedom: Humility Revisited by Joan Chitister
The Twelve Steps of Humility and Pride by Bernard of Clairvaux
St. Benedicts’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living by Jane Tomaine
The Rule of Saint Benedict Edited by Timothy Fry
 

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