Thursday, April 30, 2009

ROBERT : Ah, the American Dream . . . .

Ah, the American Dream.
      If you and I could find an abbot, out here in the world where we offer our prayers and oblations at an altar in the midst of the ordinary — nice phrase, by the way, you may live to see it in a book some day; whose book is the question — if we could find an abbot, he would not likely be too terribly concerned with helping us in our pursuit of the American Dream. More likely he would be trying to help us let go of the American Dream so that we might more faithfully seek and attend to the life envisioned for us by the One Who dreamed us into being in the first place.
     That holy dream, the most astonishing of all dreams, is a very different sort of dream than the American one, I suspect. It likely includes more sacrifice than success, more piety than productivity, more compassion than commerce, more being than doing.
      I also think that if we found an abbot, we would be applauded for seeking altars amidst the ordinary in the first place. Such a desire is a sign that we are trying to live one life instead of two, to live a life that is not divided between our spiritual life and our real life. ( There is a joke in there somewhere about two halves not making a holy, but I think I should pass. )
Finally I think an abbot would say to you or any of us to find a trustworthy friend or two, someone who will gently hold you accountable for the Rule that you make for yourself, and get on with it.
      A Rule is not about earning God’s approval, that sounds more like something the American dreamer might come up with.
      A Rule is about becoming the person God dreamed you into being to become. And you are the only one who will know if that is happening anyway.
      ‘Oh, begin,’ says John Wesley.
      ‘Oh, begin,’ says the abbot we cannot find. ‘And, sweet dreams, by the way.’

Thursday, April 23, 2009

BEN : Can anyone tell me . . . .

Can anyone tell me where to find an Abbot?
      I understand that I can easily find one in the midst of the monastic communities scattered across the globe. It seems to me that this whole Rule business would be much easier if we could just take ourselves, our minds, our fears and lay them before someone who could put the pieces together for us.
      It makes sense for God to endow one individual within every community with the wisdom to lead, direct, and serve the larger community by helping each member understand their role and how their work contributes to a complete ecosystem of ministry, work, and prayer.
      Of all the elements that St. Benedict captured for us in his Rule making, this is not the one to leave out. I can do without all the rules about chewing my food so many times per bite and even a few others, but not this one. The role of the Abbot, who functions as the eye of clarity and the voice of conviction, doesn't seem to translate outside the walls that contain the small communities of people dedicated to each other and the work of prayer.
      For those of us who find our altar in the midst of the ordinary, a world of screaming toddlers, unexpected traffic jams, and unplanned expenses, who or what can we look to that can help us sort through this mess we call the American Dream?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ROBERT : You struck a chord . . . .

You struck a chord for me and for others last week. As I reflected on the things that you wrote, pairs of words kept coming back to me all week — being vs. doing; eternal vs. temporal; contemplative life vs. the active life.
      One of the bits of wisdom that you will discover within the Rule of Saint Benedict is that one’s work has to nurture who you are trying to become. The things that you do need to help you become more of who you really are; the temporal of your life needs to reflect the things that are eternal; your actions need to be shaped by your silence and your solitude.
      Such a way of seeing one’s life and work seems new in a way, probably because we do not hear it talked about much. The truth is that such a way of seeing our work is as old as life itself. I believe it is the way the One Who made us intended for us to live.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

BEN : It was not so much . . .

It was not so much the falling asleep at the wheel and wrecking my car as it was that my young son was in the back seat at the time. We were both unharmed. And considering the encounter my vehicle had with the concrete running parallel to us, the car was relatively unharmed too. I’m grateful we are all OK.
      By the grace of God, my young son never woke up. To my knowledge he has no recollection of the event. I will never forget the sound of the tires popping and metal scraping that woke me from my inopportune slumber.
      I pulled the car, pulsating between two flat tires and two good tires, into the parking lot of an elementary school. I immediately called my wife who, upon arrival, ensured our child was safe and sound. She then looked at me in that quiet voice and said, “I hope it was worth it.”
      I recently took on an extra project at work. It is one of those projects that when they come, you say yes. They don’t come often, so I gladly embraced the opportunity when it presented itself. What she was referring to was the fact that I had been pushing myself beyond my limits the last two months.
      She had been warning me for weeks; I had simply dismissed her concerns.
      In my usual style, I invested more time and energy than I had to give. I was running on a deficit of sleep, only averaging about three hours a day. As my wife gently picked up our child and carried him over to her car to take him home to finish his afternoon nap in the safety of our home and his bed, it occurred to me that she had been right all along. No project or opportunity was worth this.
      When you talk about becoming all that the One Who whispered me into being wants me to become, I stumble and stutter. I seem to substitute what I do for who I am. It’s strange that as often as I was asked ‘who do I want to be?’ growing up, I never really answered the question. The question I answered was ‘what do I want to do?’
      These are two entirely different questions. One is temporal, pivoting on circumstance; the other is eternal, existing within and beyond time and space.
      In that moment, in that parking lot, I began to know that nothing I did, no title I earned, no project I completed really mattered. I am a husband, father, son, and brother. And to answer my wife’s question, no, it wasn’t worth it.
      So it is in the posture of Lent, with my hands open to let go and to receive, where I hope to find the power of the resurrection in another new beginning. Borrowing from the Benedictine tradition, I will write a Rule for my life, a guide that will help me stay focused on my being and prevent my doing from getting in the way.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

ROBERT : There will always be . . .

There will always be some distance between the person we are trying to become and the person we actually are.
      Certainly Lent reveals that gap clearly, perhaps as you said, it even shows that distance more clearly than other seasons do. Though I confess to being able to see the distance between who I am trying to become and who I actually am pretty much the whole year around. It does not take Lent for me to see how poorly I measure up, I can see it on almost any feast or fast day. An Ember Day can remind that I am something less than holy. Thursdays often do the same to me as well.
      ‘Wherever we go there seems to be only one business at hand, writes Annie Dillard, ‘that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us.’ She is so right that it makes me want to just lie down. Or fall on my knees. Or giggle at myself and all of us, the way that I suspect the One Who made us does sometimes.
      I have long believed that a fair portion of whatever I write — whether it is about prayer and the contemplative life, about spiritual practice and discipline, about this long pew that we call the Church, about trying to become the person I was dreamed into being to be by the One in Whose image we were all dreamed into being — whatever and whenever I write about those things, I am more often than not putting on paper the things to which I aspire rather than things I have already become. I write out of a sense of hope in the journey rather than out of a sense of arrival at a destination.

Here is what I am hoping just now :
      That as this Lenten journey ends in the next few days and hours, and we join the crowd that follows the One Who Came on his triumphant journey into the city, and we end this coming week in darkness and discouragement at the foot of the cross, having once again chosen the criminal over the Messiah, I hope that we find new life again in the garden two Sundays from now, in the morning light of Easter, and that we are able to go forth and live our lives in astonishment and joy as well as in aspiration and hope.
      Perhaps that is the way to cut down the distance between who we are trying to become and who we are.