THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE: Rowing against the current of life

The following excerpt is from a book entitled Profound Listening: A Lay Cistercian reflects on habits that help “listen with the ear of the heart:” Due out in December 2021.


The struggle to be spiritual may be compared to a rower paddling upstream. When we are baptized, God tells us that we are rowing in the wrong direction to reach Heaven. We must go against the natural flow of the water and work or struggle to get where God tells us. In Chapter 4 of the Rule, St. Benedict tells his monks (and those who will listen profoundly) to follow the inclinations of the Spirit rather than their human nature (just flowing down the river of life). Read what St. Benedict says about the struggle to be spiritual.

1 First of all, love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul, and all your strength, 2 and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27).

3 Then the following: You are not to kill,

4 not to commit adultery;

5 you are not to steal

6 nor to covet (Rom 13:9);

7 you are not to bear false witness (Matt 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20).

8 You must honor everyone (1 Pet 2:17),

9 and never do to another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16; Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31).

10 Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ (Matt 16:24; Luke 9:23);

11 discipline your body (1 Cor 9:27);

12 do not pamper yourself,

13 but love fasting.

14 You must relieve the lot of the poor,

15 clothe the naked,

16 visit the sick (Matt 25:36),

17 and bury the dead.

18 Go to help the troubled

19 and console the sorrowing.

If you read these tools for good works, using profound listening, can you tell how it feels to deny yourself, take up your cross each day and follow Christ? Each of us baptized with the sign of the cross must struggle each day, without exception, to move from the false self that the world touts as being saved to our true self, becoming more and more like Christ.

If you are rowing downstream just sitting in the boat, allowing the current to take you anywhere, it flows then you are not free at all, even if you go with the flow and without any effort.

When each of us is baptized with the sign of the cross, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and thus are chosen by Christ to be adopted as sons and daughters.

We have not chosen Him as much as He has chosen us.

Read the following Scripture passage using profound listening. Don’t read Scripture as you would prove you are correct and some other religion is wrong, and you are missing the point. Let the love of Christ’s presence overshadow you as you sit there in silence and solitude and ponder what it means to assimilate the author’s feelings about the passage. Listen to the love Christ has for us, the trust he places in sinful humanity, the hope He has that we are grateful for what the Father has planned for each of us.

“10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

11“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

12 This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.

13 No one has greater love than this,j to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

15 I no longer call you slaves because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.

16 It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.

17 This I command you: love one another.

The World’s Hatred.*

18 “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.

19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

20 Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.

22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but as it is, they have no excuse for their sin.

23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father.

24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father.t

25 But in order that the word written in their law* might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’

26 “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.v

27 And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

But there is a challenge there. If we believe that all we must do is follow ourselves and inclinations, float down the river of our lives, and accept what comes our way, we do not have profound enlightenment nor profound listening, and we are headed the wrong way and may not even know it.  

Profound listening means we must accept the challenge of rowing our whole life upstream because that is what Christ tells us to do. He showed us what to do.

When we are in the midst of the Holy Spirit, we know when we struggle to go against our nature to embrace the opposite of what the world says is successful and meaningful. In many instances, what the world says is not bad; it is more like it is insufficient to row upstream with the tools of good works that it offers. This daily conversion through aggressive conversion each day to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) provides us with the energy from the Holy Spirit to not only know our destination is the kingdom of heaven now and later on, but the stamina to overcome the temptations to give up and go with the flow of life. God does not take away the struggle we face in rowing against the current of our false selves. Original Sin may be forgiven in Baptism, but that sin’s effects continue with us our whole lifetime. It is the reason why we struggle to keep our boat afloat and must expend our energy to row against the current. The Holy Spirit provides us with the art of contemplative practice, not to take away our struggles but to give us the tools we need to persevere until we reach Heaven, our port of final call. You could call these rowing lessons from the Holy Spirit.


Maybe you do not, but I keep wondering why I have to continue my practice and practice of trying to love God each day with all my heart, with all my strength, and with all my mind, plus my neighbor as myself, and nothing happens. I do my Cistercian practices as faithfully as an old buzzard who is 80 years old can, and it sometimes seems as though I am just waiting my time. Is my goal unattainable? Am I living in La-La land, as my wife thinks? If my contemplative practice is so good, why does God not answer me instead of allowing me to wait in that hidden room in my heart and keep thinking that I am in my Physicians’ waiting room? Why can’t I reach what I seek each day? There you have it. I face the struggle each day, just as surely as Christ had to face himself in that last temptation from Satan in the Garden of Gethsemani, “Not my will but your will be done.”

All of this has to do with my human nature’s desire to put a cap on a thought or finalize any activity. Achieving what we seek for the moment is our nature’s default, and that is called fulfillment. What Christ was asking the Father is a human default, the result of Original Sin. Let this cup pass from me. As I see it, He was saying, “Do I have to give you the last drop of my blood to make restitution for the sin of Adam and Eve? My human nature doubts going through all this suffering for those who don’t even believe in me. ” To a much less degree but no doubt in the same feeling, I say this many times I go to Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Rosary, Reading Scripture, Liturgy of the Hours, spending time in the presence of Christ in Eucharistic Adoration. I say, “I don’t see how just saying prayers brings me into the presence of Christ? I feel like I am wasting my time focusing on Christ through the Holy Spirit when I could be watching First Things First and Get Up, my favorite sports programs” (I have given up watching calumniating national news channels.)

Silence and solitude, both Cistercian charisms, are forged on the crucible of my nature which is a contact battle for who is stronger. This is why prayer is a struggle, a good battle if I conquer my human nature in favor of my life in Christ, a bad one when I am weak and do not wait patiently for God to overshadow me with the warmth of his presence.

Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict has tools for good works that I think of often when the world tries to influence me to be more like me rather than take up the burden of my cross each day and follow the footprints of Christ. These behaviors are not ends in themselves but are only a means to an end, and the End, in this case, is also The Beginning, The Alpha, and the Omega.

20 Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way;

21 the love of Christ must come before all else.

22 You are not to act in anger

23 or nurse a grudge.

24 Rid your heart of all deceit.

25 Never give a hollow greeting of peace

26 or turn away when someone needs your Love.

27 Bind yourself to no oath lest it proves false,

28 but speak the truth with heart and tongue.

29 Do not repay one bad turn with another (1 Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9).

30 Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently.

31 Love your enemies (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27).

32 If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead.

33 Endure persecution for the sake of justice (Matt 5:10).

34 You must not be proud,

35 nor be given to wine (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3).

36 Refrain from too much eating

37 or sleeping,

38 and from laziness (Rom 12:11).

39 Do not grumble

40 or speak ill of others.

41 Place your hope in God alone.

42 If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself,

43 but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge.

Suppose you wait for God to be present to you with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength? In that case, you will eventually, as I have, come to the embarrassing realization that Christ has been sitting next to you all along, waiting for you to be aware enough to sit there in the stillness of your being and wait. Your waiting is itself a prayer, a prayer of profound listening to the heartbeat of Christ.


  1. I do profound listening on God’s time, not mine.
  2. When I do profound listening, I am conscious that God speaks to me and not just another human. (St. Benedict, Chapter 7, the first rule of humility, Fear of the Lord.)
  3. Profound listening is done in the silence and solitude of my heart as I sit on a park bench in the middle of winter waiting for Christ.
  4. It is God’s agenda, not my own, for which I listen using the “ear of my heart.”
  5. The Word of God is the energy of God. When I assimilate that into my being, based on the totality of what I have become, then this energy must be shared with others, just as God must share the fulness of His love with humans.
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