My final assignment is to compare what I’ve learned in the last few days against my original assumptions. Then I’m to talk about one thing that I’ve learned and discuss how I will use it to modify my spiritual life.
I hope that my many other posts have addressed the reality of monastic life in useful ways, at least as much reality as I can observe in just a few short days. I think I can sum up my experience of the monks in a short phrase: they’re human. They are like you and me – they love, they hurt, they are generous, they are selfish, they are obedient, they are rebellious, they crave affection, they crave solitude, they are self-sacrificing, they are self absorbed, and so on. Perhaps the difference is that the structure of monastic life and the reality of God create a heightened awareness within each monk of who he is.
Dr. Schmidt is fond of saying that it is spiritually perverse in the extreme to think that what God wants is not you. The prayer life, the work life, the community life and the solitary life of the Benedictines forces each monk to deal with who he is and who God made him to be. Benedictine life gently lets each monk, in relationship with God and others, shape his life into the form that God meant it to be. There is not any one thing that can be pointed to as the source of this formation, for if you took any one of the elements out, the rest would be useless. It is balance that is the key and the balancing point, the fulcrum, the center of the circle, is God.
We want to think of monks as especially holy or sanctimonious in some way, but when we do that we run the risk of denying their basic humanity and our own holiness. We are just like them. What makes a monk special is not the rule or even the life he leads, it is God. Likewise, we too are created by God in God’s image. There is little that happens here that cannot be replicated in ordinary life. However, God clearly calls some people to this type of life, just as he calls others to what we think is a normal life. We can all make time for community, for prayer, for work, and for silence. But like monks, it works best when it is done in the covenant of relationships – otherwise we run the risk of self-absorption (or really long journals!).
Of course monks are human. And if the Rule of Benedict forced them to act in ways that denied their basic humanity, instead of embracing their humanity in faith, it would not have lasted long at all. The human spirit, given to us by God, resists all external attempts at restriction.
So, having observed and participated in all of this, what’s next? As I expected, when I return, I won’t be noticeably different. This week, the rule, this experience, may serve as a catalyst for change in my life. But monasticism isn’t meant to produce dramatic, immediate change. Rather, it is like slowly polishing the diamond of the soul, one facet at a time, so that our souls can reflect the light of God.
If I were to choose one area where I think I’ll try and integrate Benedictine spirituality into my life, it will be at work. I initially thought that this week was going to be about prayer for me, but I think it has really made me think more about being prayerful in everything – prayer as a "stance" more than an activity. I’ve been thinking that perhaps I can find time during the work day to say one or two of the Psalms, as a way of reminding me of my need to approach my work prayerfully. I need to find God in what I do now, not postpone it until later in my life, as if He doesn’t have a presence at UTMB.