What follows is an exerpt from two of my books, THE PLACE NO ONE WANTS TO LOOK: Six questions all of us must answer before we die, and, SEEKING GOD AT PREMIER GYM IN TALLAHASSEE FLORIDA.What seems like nonsensical titles are actually at the core of contemplative spirituality as I practice it. In one of my Lectio Divina meditations (Philippians 2:5), I thought of this saying: “You don’t meet God through Christ where he is, you meet Him where you are.” In all the different ways to see God, the best way for me has been to realize that God is right before me. When I first went to Premier Gym, I had no thoughts of God. After all, I wanted to exercise, and what does God have to do with getting your muscles and heart toned up? All of this depends on my assumptions.
As I move around my day, and my day moves around my years, and my years pass away, quickly, it seems, I am more and more conscious of transforming the NOW into something I can take with me to Heaven, packing my suitcase, if you will, for my last big trip.
As a Lay Cistercian, using the charisms and practices of Cistercian spirituality to help me reach my purpose in life (Philipians 2:5), assumptions are so important. Assumptions are those embedded principles that you use to find meaning and purpose in life. Depending on your assumptions, your behavior follows. Christ told us, “…by their fruits you shall know them.” You can tell a lot about someone by their external behavior. These behaviors come from somewhere. I think they are from my assumptions that I make about who God is, who I am, what my purpose in life is.
A FEW OF MY ASSUMPTIONS
Anytime you read anything, whenever you hear a commentator on television news give an opinion, there are always assumptions underlying their thoughts. We can’t help it. We speak of what we know based on our value system. Here are assumptions I have about my contemplative practice of prayer, as it pertains to any of my thoughts.
ASSUMPTION ONE: We need to attend a school of love to learn how to love as Jesus loved us.
We are not born with a mature spirituality. We must learn how to do it, just as we must learn the meaning of the word “Love”. It would be foolish indeed to attempt to start my own school of Love when there has been one around since St. Benedict of Nursia wrote his Rule (c.540 A.D.) to develop rules to organize the monks of his day. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Monte-Cassino. http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbejms1.html#pro
Here is an excerpt from the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict.
“LI S T E N carefully, my child,
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.”
He founded a monastery for monks at Monte Casino, Italy, which still follows this Rule. What is the school of love? It is a place where you learn the disciplines of how to love using proven practices and charisms (what you convert your life into when you say you want to be like Christ). The Christ Principle has endured to this very day.
These disciplines are not easily mastered and may take a lifetime of conversion of life only to realize they are beyond mastery, you may only approach them when you love others as Christ loved you. Each day is a lifetime in this school. Conversion is the curriculum. There is no graduation.
Cistercians (contemplative monks and nuns) and Carthusians (hermits) evolved from the Benedictine tradition c. 1090’s, with a desire to love Christ even more fiercely. They did this through their contemplative prayers and practices (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community), adapting the Rule of Benedict to each age. This is the same school that comes down to us today with the same practices, traditions, writings, wisdom, temptations, and graces in each age. It is a monastic tradition.
Characteristics of a School of Love
We will spend the next three days together, part of your larger journey of life. It is what you do with the rest of your life after you go home that will sustain you for the rest of your life. It is time you take to overcome self-inflicted obstacles and temptations that say all of this is irrelevant and foolish and does no good, that is meaningful and makes the journey worthwhile. This journal-retreat is a trip to enter the one place no one wants to look, within you. If you allow, I will take you to a place where you may have never been, one that begins to answer the six questions the human heart asks. I will show you how contemplation and prayer using both mind and heart can unlock the darkness. Mystery continues to mean something beyond our mortal intellectual capability, but it will be welcomed as an old friend and not as a block to the truth.
The six questions are:
If you wish to explore this topic more thoroughly, look up the following URLs.
ASSUMPTION TWO: My contemplation follows the Cistercian Way. Cistercian (Trappist) spirituality with its unique practices of silence, solitude, pray, work, and community forms the basis of charisms (humility, obedience to the will of God, hospitality, simplicity, and Lectio Divina) that lead to the conversion of self to God. Lay Cistercians, following Cistercian spirituality, adapt the disciplines of the Monastery (without actually living there) to whatever their vocations might be. Contemplation is certainly not limited to one religious order, i.e., Cistercians, but it is the one which I use in all my books.
ASSUMPTION THREE: The Mystery of Faith is approached in at least five levels of spiritual awareness, each one leading to a more deeper penetration of God’s plan of action for us. I will use the transformative Word of God as an example of growing deeper in faith, love, and service.
(You will notice the same levels of transformation are also below.)
This assumption is at the heart of what it means to dig deeper into contemplative spirituality. Deeper here means going within oneself using silence and solitude to discover the unlimited riches of what lies within us. Retirees may sometimes be afraid that they won’t have enough to do or to keep busy. If you use the foundations of spirituality with contemplative practices, you are never alone, and you will find meaning not by just keeping busy but by loving others.
ASSUMPTION FOUR: Contemplation allows us to move from the realm of the mind to the realm of the heart. Contemplative spirituality is all about being silent, being in solitude, practicing Lectio Divina daily, sharing Eucharist daily, reciting the Liturgy of the Word together daily, converting your life to the Lift of Christ daily. All of these practices begin with the realm of the mind but develop into the realm of the heart. This realm of the heart is what we all aspire to attain.
As a Lay Cistercian, I reach this level of love and then slip back into my old self again. This notion of dying to the old self and rising to new self is core to the conversion of life into the Life of Christ Jesus. My purpose in life, as you will soon see, is based on Philippians 2:5. My life becomes trying and trying, over and over, to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus as a way I address these six questions of life. The journey is the important part of my attempts to love, sometimes even achieving fleeting completion, This is the deepest part of me, unexplored, like the darkness of a cave; unknown, yet luring me ever forward, like a moth seeks a flame.
ASSUMPTION FIVE: Dedication to a contemplative way of life is all about dying to self and rising again with Christ. Conversion of life is a lifetime process of striving to move from my false self to the true self, giving up the self of arrogance, pride, vanity and the allure of world to choose death, not life…Forever. The late Dom Andre Louf, the abbot of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont in Bailleul, France, wrote a book which opened my spiritual eyes and ears entitled, The Cistercian Way.
The Cistercian Way is all about moving from the false self to God (true self) and how to use proven practices to seek God within you.
ASSUMPTION SIX: I used whatever thoughts came to mind as a result of my Lectio Divina statement found in Philippians 6:5. I just think of this phrase, “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus” over and over in the silence and solitude of my inner self (my outer self is full of noise and distractions). I don’t plan on having any thoughts or have any agenda, other than sitting on a park bench in the dead of Winter and waiting. I have never been disappointed.
I try to use the Cistercian principles and practices of conversion of life, but do not use the Monastery as my occasion to express it. Here are a few of my obseservations about the differences between a monastery and living the Cistercian Way in the world.
Early monks went into the desert to find solitude and silence in the wilderness. Ironically, Lay Cistercians find a wilderness of ideas and false self in the world, a place devoid of nourishment unless you put it there, a place with no water to quench the longing in the soul for Christ. The Garden of Eden is still the Garden of Eden because what God made is good. The majestic beauty of the physical universe, the natural law of all life, the wonders of science that delve into the very make up of matter and time with energy, all creation praises the Lord. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 148. “Praise him sun and moon, praise him, shining stars, praise him highest heaves and the waters above the heavens,” How can sun and moon praise God? They do not live, as we do? The Psalmist points to a very important reflection about life itself. When Sun and Moon be what they are destined to be, they automatically praise to God be just being. All life is like that, with the exception of humans. Humans don’t act their nature, they tend to act like animals or not as their nature intended. Remember, Genesis 2-3 speak of a fall from grace? Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden (did not act according to how they were created) and had to suffer pain, death, and other human dysfunctions. Christ came to redeem us (restore us to be able to act our nature, except for the effects of Original Sin).
Matter and time are not evil, yet they will end. Humans are not evil, but all will die. While we imperfect humans live, we are tempted by the wilderness of false ideas, like Adam and Eve were in the story of salvation. We will be tempted to make ourselves gods until we die, yet, because Christ became one of us and paid the price for our redemption, rising from the dead to be our mediator with the Father once more, we have found adoption as sons and daughters. This is the Good News Christ wants everyone to know, even if they don’t believe in Him.
In recognition of that great series of events (Philippians 2:5,-12) we proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes again in glory, using Cistercian practices and conversion of life. Lay Cistercians pray as they can, not with schedules of prayer but by transforming the very struggle and distractions into a hymn to the wonders of God’s love for each of us. As he little fox tells the Little Prince, in Saint Exupere’s tale of the meaning of love, it is the time you take to discover the meaning of love that is itself part of loving.
Lay Cistercians embrace time, not just as part of the make-up of the physical universe, along with matter and energy, but as an instrument to transform us from where we are now to where we want to be with our true self, one rooted in the Life of Christ in the best sense of that phrase. Time becomes transformative when both monks, nuns, laity all see themselves in relationship to the totality of all that is and proclaim, Abba, Father. Time exists to help us approach the Mystery of Faith in the now, so that we can live that same Mystery forever with the source of all energy, the pure energy of God in the Trinity. We all live in the context of time, but we do not all realize that we alone can transform ourselves from our false self to our true self by Cistercian practices and charisms into our intended nature in the Garden of Eden. Christ gave us, adopted sons and daughters, the power, not only to go to heaven, but to transform earth by recognizing that God is, God and we are who we are, then giving praise, as found in Revelation 4:11; “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Of the many excellent, transformative ways to move from self to God that the Church has developed over the centuries (Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite, Augustinian, Ignatian, Cistercian, Benedictine) I have chosen the Cistercian Way as my personal vehicle because it stresses silence and solitude in the context of Lectio Divina, Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharist, Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and being what I read in Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict. Everything is geared to move from self to God.
I carry these assumptions with me everytime I go anywhere. Consequently, I am, ever more and more, waking up to the great possibility of the manifestibility of all Being encountered. I like to think of it as transforming the Now into Forever.
LEARNING AND DISCUSSION POINTS