Monday, October 22, 2012
The Beginning of Christian Monasticism, Part III
The common life lived within the enclosure of the monastery speaks eloquently of the idea of stability of place. However, if one looks at it as "to stand firm" the meaning is very different. Buildings, interior decoration, colors all can be changed. The people with whom we live are not so easily changed and the face of the community changes with each person who enters. Who should do the changing and whose ideal should they change to meet? Mine or God's? With stability comes flexibility and compromise and the need to learn how to communicate with each other so that charity is preserved.
Common prayer in some way, shape or form was an essential element in most expressions of monasticism. Communal prayer is further enhanced by times of personal prayer and lectio divina. The early ascetics and monastics keenly knew the need to spend time with the Word of God. This need was intensified in meaning when one began to understand how precious a copy of one of the books of the bible was in the days before the printing press and copiers. There were not vast libraries to explore for a particular translation of the bible, nor was there a plethora of books on the spiritual life.
Silence, too, held a place of high esteem in early monastic communities. Silence is something that today we learn to cultivate a desire for, especially when one considers the multitude of ways that sound is part of our everyday environment. In entering into the silence, it allows me the space in which to make myself wholly available to my Divine Spouse -- to praise and petition and most importantly to listen to His word spoken in the deeps of my heart.
What conclusion can be drawn from these musings? Perhaps that monasticism has been and always will be a unique part of religious culture. Within the Benedictine Rule alone we can see a rule that was written for a particular group of men living the common life that has endured and been adapted to times and places for over 1500 years. St. Benedict drew on the wisdom of those who went before him and distilled their ideas into a Gospel-centered way of seeking God -- exactly what the first monks in the desert did.