Friday, June 15, 2012
WHY DO YOU STAY?
This will be a short blog because I’m on vacation visiting my brother, and haven’t had a lot of access to the internet.
Next week a young alumnus of our school is going to start his period of postulancy as a candidate for Newark Abbey. We get so few new candidates that it’s normal to get all excited about his coming. But over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at balancing the excitement with the sober awareness that the fellow is only starting out, and he or we may discover that this isn’t the path that God’s calling him to follow.
As Director of Formation, I’ll be in charge of guiding him along the way as he tries to become a monk. As you can imagine, this responsibility helps me to reflect more deeply on my own monastic commitment.
First, like the rest of the community, I have “somebody to be good for,” that is, I have to set him a good example by my own way of living.
Second, I have to unpack and help him internalize 1500 years of monastic spiritual wisdom so that he can live this life in a way that not only makes some sense but also brings him a sense of deep-down joy.
A third part of my job, among many others, is to help him discover reasons to stay. The reasons you come to the monastery can be very trivial, in fact-- God has various ways of getting you in the door. But once inside, those reasons won’t be enough to sustain you, so you need to discover reasons to stay. I believe this is an important skill to practice, because your reasons for staying may in fact change over the years, so you have to keep discovering new reasons to stay. Thomas Merton writes somewhere that the monk’s response to the abbot’s ritual question “What do you seek?” should evolve and change over time. To say “I’m seeking God” isn’t very helpful in discovering why I’m living in a monastery. The monk needs to reflect deeply on what’s going on in his innermost self, in that holy of holies where it’s just him and God. So, if it’s my job to help the new guy to do this, you can see how it forces me to do the same thing myself – which, if course, I’m supposed to be doing anyway.
So, please pray for Tim and for me that we can stay out of God’s way while he discovers what the Spirit is asking of him.
REFLECTION: Try taking a long, honest look at the various things you do in your different roles in life (parent, spouse, employee, etc.) and asking yourself “Why do I do this particular thing?’ “What is it that keeps me doing it?” Do you think those answers have evolved and changed over the years?