One of my spiritual directors told me that I needed to keep growing in Christ Jesus every day in order to sustain my faith, hope, and love. Growing can mean many things, but I had a Lectio Divina meditation on it the other day and this is what I discovered (Philippians 2:5).
I thought about my orange tree in my front yard and how the fruit is beginning to turn orange from its natural green. The tree must be good this year because we have 80+ oranges on it so far. This reminds me of my faith. I must do something to cultivate this tree (my faith) so that it does what it is created to be– to bear fruit. I thought about how I am created to love God with my whole heart, my whole mind, and my whole strength and love my neighbor as myself. (Matthew 22:34) To keep my fruit growing, I must water the tree, give it fertilize, keep off the bugs and protect it when the limbs break off from too much weight. If I don’t help the plant (my faith) by cultivating it, it will not produce fruit.
FROM THEN TO NOW
Six years ago (which seems like only yesterday), I began my journey as a Lay Cistercian at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) in Conyers, Georgia. I had always had a desire to become a contemplative monk, either Benedictine or Trappist, but that did not work out. When I got the chance to apply for admission as a novice as a Lay Cistercian, I did it with the understanding that they may not approve of me or I might not like it. This is called discernment, a process of discovery and growth. Look back on that initial meeting, which is like looking back at your wedding pictures, I realized that I am not the same person. Physically, I may be the same, but mentally, I have been exposed to ideas and experiences that have made me better, stronger, more peaceful, more powerful in knowing who I am and my purpose in life (see above).
When I first began my journey as a Lay Cistercian, I had no history against which to measure myself. I thought of silence and solitude as being an individual thing and pictured myself alone, in adoration before the Eucharist. That has not happened to me, but something else that is wonderful did. I applied silence and solitude to where I found myself each day as I lived in the World. My growth, as suggested by the many sessions on Cistercian contemplative spirituality that we had together in a Gathering Day each month, was that I was an individual but not alone. I was in silence and solitude IN THE MIDST OF A COMMUNITY of like-minded people who also tried to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). What I began to see what that the Holy Spirit in each of these individual Lay Cistercians was helping shape my own way to approach the Mystery of Faith. Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict suggests tools to help with good works. These tools are not the end but only the means to an end–Christ must grow and I must decrease. To do that, I needed to purposefully make room (capacitas dei) for God in my mind and heart each day. I seek God each day as a part of a larger group of believers, even though I am not present to them. I am a part of them but not apart from them. If you extend this thinking to the Church Universal, then there is but one Body, one Christ, one Faith, one Lord. As individuals, we make up the living Body of Christ on earth, in heaven, and those awaiting purification. The one but many, the sign of contradiction, the Mystery of Faith.
It is in this context of solidarity with other humans seeking the meaning of love, that I have moved from self to God. Here is what happened to me.
Whenever I try to seek God where I am, good things happen. Since the year 2000, I had been putting together a series of books on contemplative spirituality (before I became a Lay Cistercian). I have written over 60+ books since that time. The problem was, and is, what do I do with them? They are on Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/s?k=dr.+michael+f.+conrad&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss. I did not nor do not have the money to promote these books because of the lack of support from those closest to me. So, I am stuck with all these books. What should I do? I decided to give them away to prison libraries, libraries in churches, Newman Centers, Hospice Centers, Nursing Homes, and Independent Living Centers. I also wanted to offer to conduct a session on contemplative prayer at these places and train others to do it. Last week, I turned 79 years old, so what does this broken-down, old Lay Cistercian do with his retirement? He grows in Christ Jesus where he is at.
Last week, I met with Chaplain George of the Wakulla Correctional Institution Annex (Florida) who wanted me to give a series of talks (perhaps on-going) on the topic of contemplative prayer. You see how the Holy Spirit works for those who trust more in God and less on themselves? As St. Benedict says: that in all things, may God be glorified.
If you are interested in being a part of this outreach, either through prayer or by donating to buy books for prisons for this blog and to train others to be present to those in need, you can be a big help.
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My conclusion is actually the beginning. Where this goes I don’t know. After all, that is not up to me or you, is it?