What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a place to learn the value of powerlessness." Ron Rolheiser
The Domestic Monastery
The Covid-19 virus situation might have us feeling “set apart” in the monasteries of our hearts, homes, and virtual communities and in those places, having to learn the “blessings of powerlessness” (Rolheiser, 2001). As Christians, our deepest form of powerlessness is our powerlessness to exist by our own efforts. We do not have the power to bring ourselves into existence, nor to sustain ourselves in existence. This powerlessness to exist on our own terms awakens us to all that we are as God’s gift. As awakened people, we’re to be faithful to that awakening through a life of gratitude and love (Finley & Simon, 2011) .
Every monk and nun knows “the nature of community, the healing ointment of prayer”, and the value of silence (Chittister, 2010, p. xiii). Monastic spirituality offers a way of life and attitude of mind, more than rules of right behaviour (Finley, 2004). For Benedict of Norcia, the spiritual life meant living this life and living it well (Chittister, 2011). We do not need to go very far or to be monks or nuns to find opportunities in this life to live well in community, in prayer and in silence (Finley, 2004).
To hear God speak, Benedict instructed his monks to be still and silent and yet alert and attentive to God seeking them (Chittister, 2011; Smith, 2004). Christian meditation is silent prayer that fosters conscious awareness of God giving himself to us in all that we are and enables us to respond to the gift of ourselves in and through gratitude and love (Finley, 2004). Silent prayer awakens us to the spirit awakening us to the divine love that is all we are all the time (Finley, 2011). We sit still, we sit silent, we breathe slow, natural breaths, we say our mantra, and when we become distracted, we simply return to the practice without judgement or evaluation.
Stillness of Body, Thinking, Feeling, Willing and Remembering
Living the meditative way, we somehow realize God bodying himself forth in every breath, heartbeat; indeed in all that our body is (Finley, 2004). We likewise learn to see ourselves as the observer and God as the creator and sustainer of our thinking self and all that we think. We resist slipping into thinking our thoughts, having our opinions and reacting to them. The meditative mind neither thinks nor is defined by any thought. It becomes stronger, calmer, and more stable (p. 116). We simply observe our thoughts as they arise, endure, and pass away, without clinging to or rejecting any of them. Likewise, we learn to be quietly attentive to each feeling that arises, endures, and passes away. Neither clinging to nor rejecting any feeling, we can pass beyond feelings and into meditative one-ness with God. In so doing, we grow in self-knowledge, self-awareness and compassion for ourselves and others in our broken-ness and wholeness (Freeman, 2009). Through our silent prayer practice, we recognize that no matter how we try, we cannot control God through the actions of our will. We let God be God. We also learn to be present in the present moment. We become aware of our tendency to allow our past memories to determine our whole self. We are more than just our remembrances. Who God knows us to be is infinitely more than anything we remember ourselves to be. We learn to reverence the miracle and mystery of memory.
All we need is right here right now
The optimal conditions for us to live a more meditative way of life are right here right now in the face of COVID-19. Monks and nuns know that living in a monastery is a lifetime of learning how to wait for God in the midst of both delays and difficulties and sometimes unexpected and unimaginable graces and blessings (Finley, 2004). In the silence of our places set apart we do not only learn about, we experience powerlessness as a gift, grace and blessing.
Written by Patricia Harasym.
Patricia has been meditating, for more than 20 years. She was taught meditation by Engeline Piet at the FCJ Centre in the tradition of Fr. John Main, OSB and Fr. Laurence Freeman, OSB. Patricia practices and uses her Master and PhD training in communication from the University of Calgary, her training as a lay Benedictine Oblate and her knowledge of Ignatian Spirituality as a Spiritual Director, 19th Annotation facilitator, and member of the FCJ Resource Team.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers