Earlier this week (Wednesday), my Benedictine brother-in-blogging, Bryan Sherwood, posted about the Feast Day of St. Benedict – the day in which the church (at least, churches that follow the traditional liturgical calendar) historically commemorate St. Benedict and remember his example and all he contributed to our faith (such as, the foundation for all of Western monasticism, among other things!). In his blog post, Bro. Bryan briefly mentions his own journey into this fascinating life of what he terms “lay monasticism” – i.e., those of us ordinary, regular folk who are seeking to incorporate monastic principals and practices out here in ‘the real world’ outside of monastery walls. I strongly encourage you to read the whole post in its entirety HERE (go on… I’ll wait. It’s not too long, so it won’t take you but a minute. Done? Great, I’ll continue)
At the end of his post, Bro. Bryan writes,
“…I’m interested in hearing about others who have experience in living the monastic life…Share your thoughts…”
So I did, and thus, quite by accident, this blog post was born. 🙂 It has been well over a year now since I first learned of and began informally inquiring/studying about living life as a Benedictine out here in the rough and tumble ‘secular’ world. It has been the better part of a year now since I officially started my journey on this path, and at the end of March, I was formally received into the Company of Jesus and took my initial vows. (Just realized that I never did blog about that…was a pretty intense, but amazing, experience…will have to write about that soon! And I have pics…lots of pics!) So, I can’t say I’ve been at this a long time…but it’s been a minute or two and I wanted to share my thoughts on how this decision has impacted and deeply enriched my life and my faith, even though I’m still pretty much a “baby Benedictine” – haha!
It has been and continues to be a learning process to incorporate the daily, set times of prayer (morning and evening) into my life (particularly in the mornings! I’m sooooo NOT a morning person). But I find this practice becoming more and more ingrained into my life and into my being… into my heart. If I miss a time of prayer, boy howdy, do I notice a difference! 😮 I’ve been known to do my “morning prayers” (Lauds, to call it by the proper monastic term) on my lunch break, simply because I do not want to miss out on reading the psalms that were set for that morning’s reading. (Hey, given various time zones and whatnot, it’s gotta be morning SOMEWHERE, right?! Even at noon? LOL!). I think God just kinda chuckles and doesn’t care so much about “getting it exactly right” so much as, “is this truly sinking into my heart & life”? 🙂 Of course, as always, I keep a running conversation going with the Lord all day long…tossing my random thoughts skyward, praying for friends and strangers as I am led, and so forth, as I’ve always done. But I’m finding (to my surprise, honestly) that the scheduled, more liturgical forms of prayer are also deeply enriching. After all, what is it that we are praying? The Psalms. In one month’s time (depending on which prayer book you are using), we literally pray all 150 Psalms. And what on earth could possibly be cooler, and better for our hearts, than speaking and meditating on His word?? These times of scheduled prayer and reading form the framework around which my day is built (well, in theory…it doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s sure enough the goal I strive for!).
At times when it’s been a terrible day…when it’s been one of those days I know I’ve not acted, spoken, or even thought in ways that are pleasing to God, it’s tempting to skip a time of prayer, to skip a time of Scripture reading, from shame or embarrassment. But it’s slowly dawning on me that’s where part of LEARNING humility comes in (definitely learning…can’t say I’ve got it yet as I should…that’ll be a life-long thing there, for sure, LOL)… praying even knowing I’m not worthy, knowing I’ve screwed up, knowing that even though I’m sitting there feeling like some kind of hypocrite, the chief of sinners indeed….that with a truly contrite and repentant heart, God hears and accepts my prayers…my heart, my life… and works on changing me.
One of the biggest things that God has been doing lately is working with me on this whole thing of “dying to self” and preferring His will above my own. OUCH. I see more and more each day, the literally thousands of choices we face daily, and how easy it is to go our own ways and not His. The seemingly “little things,” add up to big things in the long run. (Even the other day, I was chatting with someone on Facebook, they said something like, “Hey, I heard you say such and such, so how does that square with what you are saying now?” Such a casual comment I’d made, meant in completely in jest weeks prior… but no, it most certainly did NOT reflect Christ or His character at all. And thus, my witness for Him was compromised. OUCH. Did I mention…OUCH!?! Hand smacked by the Holy Spirit, message received, duly noted, thank you very much.)
The opportunities to compromise are countless. Sometimes I do well; sometimes – all too often — not, as noted above. But in all of it, I try to repeat to myself (especially here lately) – “Let them prefer *nothing whatsoever* above Christ…” and strive to purposefully remember that it is not MY will I’m seeking, but HIS (though I very much want my own will and own way, on one level, as do we all). And choosing His will over ours… that can be hard. I’ve lost a relationship or two, or potential relationship(s) along the way (really now, think about it – what guy would want to date a MONK for crying out loud?!? hahaha!) and even friends think I’m just a bit looney sometimes. Or they make a point of letting me know they are SO *not* impressed with this whole Benedictine thing; it’s “just another churchy religious thing” in their eyes that amounts to just religious blustering & pomp. I get called, jokingly, “The Holy One” (though I’m so NOT…lol… and more and more I’m aware of how short I fall and how far I have to go!) Well…OK then, that’s fine… I’m not doing this to flaunt it before people or be thought of as holy or anything for anyone else… this is, quite simply, an *intensely personal*, deeply transformative, long-term path. On the other hand… I’m not going to “hide” it either… I don’t want to draw attention to myself in the slightest…but neither will I hide this… it’s becoming too much a part of who I am, and it’s becoming the very foundation of my life, these rhythms of daily prayer, the accountability, stability, community… the whole way of life that is geared towards teaching us to truly and simply love Jesus and love others…genuinely.
I am not a very self-disciplined person by nature…I’m more the “flexible, make-it-up-as-I-go-along-and-I’ll-get-around-to-it-eventually” type. I thrive on variety and change. Yet the very stability of the Benedictine way of life, and the routineness of the prayers, has become a balm to my soul… an oasis of peace in an ocean of chaos that is life in this hectic world. Lately, I find myself intentionally slowing down as I read the psalms/prayers… trying to soak in each word. Slowly, I’m starting to build in more time (by “more time,” I mean maybe 5-10 minutes more…especially in the mornings when I’m always running late anyway!) in which to do this… so that it’s not just “rushed through” to get it out of the way (though sometimes life is hectic and I have to just “GIT-ER-DUN” real quick…. not ideal, but it’s better than missing altogether, I’ve found). I have a variety of prayer books I’ve collected over the past year… if I know in advance that my day is going to be very time-challenged, I’ll opt to use one of the books that offers a briefer office for whichever hour I’m praying. There are ways to work it in… I think it’s all about intentionally bringing God into our ordinary, ho-hum daily existence, and building our lives around Him…rather than the other way around.
One neat thing that has been happening of late is that my 11-year-old (who is enamored of all things monastic) has been praying with me at night. Not always, but often, she’ll read the psalms and prayers right along with me, word-for-word. Or sometimes, just listen as I read them. Either way, it’s good for her, and me. 🙂
And so, my journey is just beginning. It’s not “all shiny and brand new” at this point, but I don’t I don’t have the perspective of one who has lived this way of life for many years, either. However, I can tell a difference in my life now vs. my life a year ago. I can’t say definitively that I’ve “changed” – but I can most assuredly say that I “am changing,” slowly, bit by bit. And along the way, loving every minute of this life… even when it’s been deeply painful.
Thanks be to God!