During the Lenten season, particular emphasis is on how to move from my false self to my true self. The book, The Cistercian Way, written by the late Dom Andre Louf, O.S.C.O., is one that I continue to read, again and again, to recreate the pattern of the passion, death, and resurrection in my person dying to self. Many ideas flow from a profound reflection on the Mystery of Faith, one of which is that Christ must increase while I must decrease. Dom Andre speaks of moving from my false self to my true self as emptying the world and receiving the living Word. (John 1:1) I find the following passage from The Cistercian Way inspirational to help me MOVE from my present way of doing lectio divina to an even deeper awareness. With God s energy, not mine, there is always deeper (higher).
“There comes a time therefore when the monk will close the commentaries and put aside the dictionaries and concordances. He will no longer ask questions or pose problems. Nor will he run after representations of the world in his imagination, nor lean on the feelings which these can arouse. He will try instead to rest before God in reverent and loving attention, which His interior faculties remain empty.
He must work to create this emptiness, the space within so that the power of God’s word can fill it. Only then will this power spring up like a flash of light or as a force that can transform me. This does not normally happen quickly. Perseverance, humility, and patience are needed, and not some sort of interior searching and questioning which would be no help at all. What the monk must do is nurture his desire for the word of God in faith and trust.
The attitude of the soul and heart which we are here describing is not always either easy or comfortable. The reason for this is that it is an attempt to persevere in which is in fact an interior desert. This is especially so if the world of the Bible has not yet become alive and life-giving for the monk. He does not know where to turn. He has no interior point of reference other than a gentle awareness that has come to him from the Holy Spirit. He is tempted to take the well-trodden paths of the old certainties that he knows. He wants the solid historical commentary, which will enlighten his intellect or the pious meditation which will warm his heart once more. He must resist these desires when he allies lectio divina. He must patiently persist in his attempts, putting all his hope in the power of God who is present in his ord, and in the love of God who wishes to speak to him at the moment.
In general, however, the beginner in lectio does not have to wait too long. Suddenly a word will light up. He will be touched interiorly. Perhaps he will be seized by a powerful emotion. He may feel himself overcome by the power of the word of God. He will lose himself in it easily. Sometimes tears will come without effort on his part. They are the fruit of grace. Such an experience is important in the life of any believer, especially the first time it happens. The heart feels as though it has been wounded by the sword of the word of God. “The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. It cuts through to where the soul and spirit meet, to where the joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of men’ hearts” (Heb. 4:12).
Our heart is the place of God. God is there and we do not know it. Our heart sleeps and only the word of God can awaken it. This word comes to bring it life and filled with this life the heart stirs and awakens. The power of God which is in his word strikes it and makes it vibrate with an echo to the very life of God, The word seeks out our heart and then our heart seizes on the word of God. The two recognize each other. In the first blinding by the word of God, our heart truly hears the word and in that same instant recognizes itself as a new being, recreated before God in the very power of the word. Henceforth, things will never be the same. A new doorway has been opened. A crucial threshold has been crossed. A new criterion of discernment has been given to us. Having once recognized God’s power in his word, so unlike all other inward experiences, we can recognize it again when it comes to us, just as we can thereafter detect its absence.” (pp77-78)
A new doorway has been opened, not by me, but because I waited in the silence and solitude of my heart to hear “the way, the truth, and the life.” My biggest seduction when it comes to contemplation is to proceed under the illusion that anything that comes to me in meditation from the Holy Spirit must be shared with others in a prayer group or even a Lay Cistercian Gathering Day. My great challenge is to keep the absolutely uncontainable energy that comes from Love contained within myself and share it with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the upper room of my heart (Matthew 6:6), I cultivate the habit of waiting in stillness. The human predilection for having to tell everyone what you are thinking tempts me to blurt out my feelings and emotions, rather than continuing to sit in silence and solitude next to the heart of Jesus and simply enjoy. With eyes cast down (custos oculi) and heart racing with all that I can contain from the Holy Spirit, I am resisting the race to share with others (a prideful temptation), instead, turning my attention to the person next to me, Jesus, and spending time being fully human mind to mind and heart to heart. This is Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37 in practice, “loving God with my whole heart, with my whole mind, with my whole strength, and my neighbor as myself.”
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote of twelfth-century cistercian life: This is what being a Lay Cistercian means, the fulfillment of our desires to rest in the heart of Christ. I want to have this Cistercian Way as part of my reality.
“Our way of life is abjection. It is humility, it is voluntary poverty, obedience, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit.Our way of life means being under a master, under an abbot, under a rule, under discipline. Our way of life means applying ourselves in silence, being trained in fasts, vigils, prayers, manual labor, and above all it means clinging to the most excellent way, which is Charity, and furthermore advancing day by day in these things and preservering in them until the last day.” (The Cistercian Way, cover)
I wish to make the words of St. Bernard in the twelfth century my own this day. As a Lay Cistercian, each day seeking God, I want to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus. I want to move from my false self to my true self, each day growing in the capacity for God within me (capacitas dei). Let’s just say I am a vessel of clay in the process of being shaped by God the Potter.