This morning at 2:30 a.m., I make my pilgrimage to the bathroom. Usually, when I come back to bed, I do a mini-Lectio Divina with my patron Saint, Michael, and ask him to join me as we approach Jesus to give glory and honor to the Father with the Holy Spirit. I use the Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) to place myself in the presence of Christ and then just wait. This morning, true to form, I thought about waking up just fifteen minutes before and finding myself on the very edge of the bed, almost ready to fall off. When I came back from my break, I thought of being on the edge of the bed during my mini-Lectio. I am sure all of this happens in just a moment, but I thought of how the balance was important in my life as a Professed Lay Cistercian in that memory. What does balance mean in my approach to reality using the rule of St. Benedict as interpreted by Trappist spirituality? Maybe balance in my spiritual life means I sleep in the middle of the bed and not one inch from the edge. Maybe balance means I take a step back and see if I am a perpetual dweller on the fringes of my spirituality. Using the bed analogy, what are the two fringes? Typical political commentators sometimes speak of a “right-wing” instead of the “left-wing.” I don’t like that description of the two opposing sides. Instead, If Christ is your bed, you can fall off one side or the other. Depending on what?
TOO MUCH CHRIST VERSES TOO LITTLE — Can there be such a thing as “too much Christ”? Yes and No. Yes, in that, when we use Lectio Divina as a platform to push our personal agenda about how others seek God, we think everyone must agree on my way or the highway. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Not just by reading and praying about it, but when all of that comes into our hearts, we proclaim that Jesus is Lord. We can’t do that without the Holy Spirit. No, in that Christ is in all and the fulfillment of our human nature, our destiny to re-enter the Garden of Eden, the reason why we have human reasoning and the ability to choose what is true. In the photo above, you see a cup that we receive at Baptism from the Father as a sign of our adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. We fill this cup with God’s own life (grace), the energy of the relationship of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christ came to give us life and teach us how to love others as He loves us. John 10:10 puts it this way: “7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.“
Christ would not leave each generation as orphans. The expressed reason for entrusting his mission, to give all honor and glory to the Father, to human and sinful people, is to ensure that we have the grace to call the Father “Abba.” Our heritage shows us how the Sacraments are all instituted by Christ to give us the grace to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father. Humans don’t produce grace. That comes from God alone. We can share it through our good works (Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s rule). Good works, in this sense, is the grace we receive from God for doing what He showed us, not that we have earned by saying lots of prayers. Faith informs our good works. We need balance.
When we pass over to new life in Christ, Christ will ask us to show us the results of our stewardship. All we have is our cup of salvation by which we have called the Lord to be saved and forgiven our sins. This brings up another issue, What happens to people who are saved but have not repented of their sins? Sin has consequences.
PURIFICATION IN FIRE VERSES HEALING NEXT TO HEART OF CHRIST — Purgatory has always been somewhat of an appendix to the Body of Christ for me. My faith, informed by reason, suggests that it is another way for God to show us his mercy. How so? I am not sure what it does, but it is all the same.
In the extreme sense of punishment for sins that are repented but not atoned for, Purgatory is one side of the bed. The other side is that we automatically get a “Pass Go” on Heaven and are automatically ushered before the Throne of God to enjoy the beatific vision forever. I would like to believe that, but I have some difficulties with the approach. First of all, it is too much like predetermination. You can “sin bravely,” as Luther suggests, because the blood of Christ has covered your rottenness much like the Sherman-Williams paint log has the world being doused in paint. I would love to believe this because I would be able to do anything that the World suggests is pleasure without consequences. Remember, I said all choices have consequences. This concept of the nature of man has no responsibility for sin, so there is no atonement needed. It is not consistent with human nature and what happened in Genesis 2-3. The consequences of sin are death, pain, suffering, murder (Cain and Abel), and living in a condition of imperfection. I have another view that I think is more consistent with human nature and reality.
Let’s say, for example, that someone steals $1,599 from your cookie jar at home. Five days later, they catch the thief, a friend of yours who knew how to break into your back door and where you kept the cookie jar. You confront him, and he tells you he is sorry that he just went crazy and will never do it again. You tell him that you forgive him, and the police take him away for trial. Until the money is returned, the forgiveness is hollow, it is genuine, but you must have restitution to resonate with this choice he made to rob you and break into your home. What is missing in this scenario? You still don’t have your money.
Here is another example for those who think that all it takes is to ask forgiveness, and you can get on the conveyor belt to heaven without restitution for your sin. All sin has consequences. You might be thinking that Christ never mentioned this in the Scriptures. You would be wrong. The most obvious example of restitution is Christ himself. In the Genesis story, Adam and Eve sin against God. This has consequences. Did you notice that the snake, Adam, or Eve did not say to God that they were sorry? What did they say? The snake made me do it, says Eve; Adam blamed his wife and did not take responsibility for the hurt they caused God. They are cast out of the Garden of Eden and suffer the effects of that sin. The Genesis story is a brilliant statement of where we find ourselves about God. It would not be until God Himself, in the form of Jesus, became human would save ourselves from being barred from a relationship with God again. Christ is the one who paid the ransom for Adam and Eve’s lack of awareness of what they had done to God. In restitution theory, Adam and Eve offended God. The offense is measured by the one offended, in this case, God. The unintended consequences of this disobedience were that Adam or Eve, representing humanity, could not say, “I am sorry, please forgive me, God, for having placed myself as God.” In His infinite mercy and love, God sent his only Son to reestablish the link. The Son’s mission was to show us how to live with love in our minds and hearts.
BALANCE AS A LAY CISTERCIAN
Here are some actual situations where I use balance to keep my proper perspective as a Lay Cistercian.
I do not wish to use the schedule used by contemplative monks and nuns in a monastery. This is a different context of contemplative practice from living in the world. Not better, just different. Balance for a contemplative might be different because the environments are different, but so is each individual Lay Cistercian or Trappist monk.
We pray with our being without even knowing we do so. If I am aware that I must seek God each day in whatever comes my way, I sanctify the moment, not a time or place. Being free from worrying about praying this or that or doing enough as a Lay Cistercian to pray as much as possible during the day is not what I call balanced.
I am not in a mental place where I can name all the people for whom I pray by name. Balance here means I gather all my intentions into one act of praise to the Father through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Balance means my prayers are short and straightforward. I tend to be short with my verbal prayer and long with my contemplative prayers in the silence of my heart. I do not judge others going on to pray out loud for ten minutes.