See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Friday, August 13, 2010

Practical advice regarding the perfect monastery.


"Narcissistic and micro-targeted society."

I have really grown to admire Br. Steven, a Cistercian monk from Our Lady of Spring Bank, who writes Sub Tuum blog.  I'm impressed with his maturity and understanding of monastic life in so short a time - he has been in the monastery for only two years and is just now home from studies.  In his post, Maureen Dowd, Vocations Director?  Steven applies Dowd's commentary on the latest trend of college students to shop online for a roommate that suits their personality as opposed to taking their chances with a random selection who may not be to their liking.  Dowd is quoted: "Choosing roommates who are mirror images may fit with our narcissistic and micro-targeted society, but it retards creativity and social growth."
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Br. Steven then launches into what I consider very good advice for anyone searching for just the right monastery, just the right rule, just the right habit, and just the right observance...
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"I’ve written before about the parallels that remain between the cloister and its child the university. I think that the idea of community is another of those places where the two still share something. Obviously, those who are thinking about religious life share a bit more than random freshmen entering a college, but even the most traditional religious are less alike than those with stars in their eyes usually guess.

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It is two years today since I arrived at Spring Bank. I find myself sharing the Abbey with a group of men who are all very different than one another. Certainly, we dress alike and do almost everything together, but we come from different life experiences, have different interests, and often see the world and our vocations differently. These can all be sources of tension, but they are also things that call us out of ourselves and keep us from creating monasticism, the Church, and God in our own image.  [...]  The tension across our difference is the sand that produces the pearl and grist for the mill that smooths our personalities over time. More than once I have heard it said, “Don’t ask for extra trials and penances, God has given you your brothers who will arrange them for you.”

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For me, this is the gem of Br. Steven's piece:
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I worry when those looking at the religious life look for a community that matches all of their thoughts, whether it is about theology, worship, or the world. The most traditional habit, the most detailed horarium, and the most conservative reading of the magisterium, still leave the day full of differing thoughts and opinions and require more walking by faith than by sight. The history of the church is littered with stillborn communities that were a collection of a would-be founder’s pet peeves and projects that left no room for others or even for the Holy Spirit. The rise of the great heresies and the proliferation of sects have their root in the same defensive narcissism. Likewise, many of those who leave the religious life after only a short while do so because they find that they still have to share their lives with other people, who turn out not to be perfectly like them after all. And, more terrifyingly, after a few weeks the postulant discovers that many hours are left between the community exercises of the horarium when he must confront all of the the unfinished business and ugliness within himself. - Br. Steven, O. Cist.
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Read Br. Steven's entire post, especially if you are considering entering religious life, or thinking about leaving - and for that matter, even thinking about leaving a less than ideal job - in the middle of the depression.  Perhaps what Br. Steven failed to note is that many times, the gyrovague who goes from convent to convent, job to job, always looking for the perfect fit finds out that he keeps running into the same difficulties, the same problems - until he realizes that he was the problem all along.
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In conclusion...
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In the end, living the religious life is to join a motley band of pilgrims setting out together to find our true home. We must accept that we travel with others who have their own thoughts on the route and, in the same way, accept the presence of a God whom we cannot contain in any road map or rule of life, but whom instead we must allow to engulf and lead us if the journey is to be fruitful.  - Br. Steven, O. Cist.
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I think a true monk is a realist - not a romantic.  Br. Steven is beginning well.  Prayers and best wishes for his perseverance.

10 comments:

  1. Right on! Peace, Terry, Mary

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  2. Yep.
    Br. Stephen nailed "it":<)!

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  3. I completely agree.

    I also think that's one of the reasons many cloisters won't take girls fresh out of high school; they have the stars in their eyes and are looking for a mirror image of...themselves.

    A little bit of life experience tends to take the stars out of one's eyes. (The danger is, rather, becoming a bit to jaded, as in my case!).

    Perfection doesn't exist in this world. There is no such thing as the "perfect family" or "perfect religious community".

    Quite honestly, if I had to live with a bunch of people who were exactly like me with exactly the same interests and history and whatnot....I'd be bored out of my mind! Gosh, as it is I've already had all I can take of myself1

    Anyway, that's why discernment has to focus on God and what HE is asking, and His preferences might not be the same as "mine" because of course, God knows better than all of us.

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  4. br. stephen is absolutely right. it's difficult to swallow the truth that you take yourself wherever you go, and are usually the source of the difficulties you are experiencing.

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  5. Terry, yours is a far superior blog. I am humbled at every visit. you do post just for me, right? I mean you were thinking of my as you sat down to compose these thoughts?

    *snort*

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  7. Boomer-T, This can be applied to marriage, too, and family life....GK Chesterton has a great quote on this, I'll try to find it after I make dinner..:)

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  8. Wow, that was a most excellent post, I was thinking this morning, while getting ready for work, about how truly marvelous your blog is, and how glad I am that you don't charge a subscription fee :)

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  9. Tara: Me, too...no charging for this great spiritual and mental rehab right here all for free!
    Terry...you have no idea how many people you help, inspire and just give all kinds of happiness and relief...God bless your soul, Brother.
    Love you very much!

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  10. michael r.6:51 AM

    It is a brilliant piece on the monastic life. I am so grateful that I get to live the life vicariously through this young monk.

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