Erich Fromm, the author of the Art of Loving, introduced me to the concept of learning, one where love is not infused as something we get automatically from being born as a human. We must learn what love is over a lifetime of trial and error, plus applying norms and social constructs to test if what we reason is reasonable. Love becomes a process where we accept assumptions about what it means, what is authentic or unauthentic, and why, plus how all of these notions contribute to what it means to be fully human as nature intended.
What follows is my reasoning as to the four learning milestones I have had to learn using my life experiences and trials and errors (sin and grace). These four are called the Art of Living, the Art of Loving, The Art of Discerning Truth, and the Art of Contemplative Practice.
Up to, and including this past year, my focus has been moving from my false self to my true self, which I assumed was to love others as Christ loved me. While still true, I happened to uncover a way to move significantly deeper into my Lectio Divina meditations (Philippians 2:5). I called this vertical prayer because it is my quest to explore my prayer (Lectio Divine, Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharist, Penance, Rosary, Reading Holy Scripture, Reading Early Church Fathers, and Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, to name a few practices).
These four habits, which require work and prayer, are limitless in their integration with The Christ Principle. Here are some ideas I had as a result of allowing my boundaries to dissolve and asking the Holy Spirit to be my Magister Noster.
- The Art of Living — The Father is the Life of all existence. This life is physical living while I am on this earth. While on this earth, I have reason and the ability to make choices for a reason. These two qualities differentiate me from other living things, over which I am the conservator and guardian. I can choose a deeper level of existence, one which my humanity alone cannot propel me to become, although I am constantly compelled to seek it out. (St. Augustine says of this magnetic attraction, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Frances Thompson’s Hound of Heaven has given me profound thinking about the flow of intelligent progression in which I try to discover my purpose. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6hNu8U7NSc Before I discover the way, I must learn what it means to be fully human as nature intended. The Father gives me life to go to the next step in my awareness of the meaning in life that moves me to the next step in my evolution, the way. The Father teaches us to appreciate life as we are its custodians.
- The Art of the Way– The Son, Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, became one of us to show us THE WAY. (Philippians 2:5-12). Note here that the Magister Noster is God the Father, and God the Son, who provides reason and free choice so that we might become more human. The problem with this Art of the Way is that its sign is the cross, an indicator that, to move forward, I must die to everything I know about the world and embrace another set of assumptions that are the opposite of what this human reason and choice tell me is true. This is not normal nor normative to those who just see what is in front of them in life and have no ability to move deeper into reality to ask questions about the essence of what is, which is invisible to the eye. Humans have to learn the way to use Faith informed by reason to at least move forward, even if what they move towards is unclear or doesn’t make sense. This happens only because The Christ Principle has loved us first and said, “Follow me. Step in the footsteps that I made with my passion, death, and resurrection. Just love others as I have loved you.” The Son teaches us the authentic path to walk to understand the complexities of original sin. It is dying to self so that a new reality that is the opposite of the world is deeper right in front of us. Most people can’t look there because of their lack of Faith.
- The Art of Truth — This TRUTH is the Holy Spirit and exists outside our human experience. We can’t know God using God’s attributes, only those characteristics of human beings, imperfect but “looking through a foggy glass,” as St. Paul writes. The Scriptures have authorized writings that show us THE TRUTH. The gift of the Holy Spirit to those adopted by the Father and befriended by Christ is the energy to live this cross, the contradiction of being a pilgrim in a foreign land. If the Father is the WHY, and the Son is the WHAT, then the Holy Spirit is the HOW in each age. We have gifts to help us on our collective journey as Church and also our personal journey. They are the gifts of Confirmation by the Holy Spirit, the ability to make all things new in Penance and Reconciliation, food for the daily journey of Christ Himself in Eucharist, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Unction or Healing at the end of our lives. The Holy Spirit teaches those who embrace their new life as adopted sons and daughters and walk the path designed for them as adopted sons and daughters and shown by the map (Scriptures) to do so in the context of my life as I live out each day using the life and the way to embrace objective truth. This is not the objective truth the world thinks it gives, but the abandonment of everything I thought I knew as being so much straw (St. Thomas Aquinas) to discover that this is only the beginning of what it is like being caught up into the third heaven (St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 12)
- I* must boast; not that it is profitable, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
- 2 I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven.
- 3 And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows)
- 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter.a
- 5 About this person* I will boast, but about myself, I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.
- 6 Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me
- 7 because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated,* a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.b
- 8 Three times* I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,c
- 9* but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,* so that the power of Christ may dwell with me.d
4. The Art of Contemplative Practice– (Trappist) I inherit these three principles and have the opportunity through the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Church to allow me to use my reason and free will daily to discern how I can uncover the mysteries of what it means to be fully human as my nature intended. I do this through Baptism and Confirmation. I renew this daily through Eucharist and Reconcilliation. I sustain it through Marriage and Holy Orders. I prepare to meet the three principles, three Magisters Noster and be happy in heaven. This fourth set of habits do not come automatically as a result of my being human. The whole point of The Christ Principle is to move from what is normal or natural in my humanity to something supernatural.
The energy to lift me up to that next level does not come from my human nature, but rather from me opening up my humanity to a higher power and energy. It is all about the power of the Holy Spirit and my willingness of be of such a mind as to be like Christ Jesus, as St. Paul writes. (Philippians 2:5-12). As a Lay Cistercian seeking God each day as God is, not as I wish that God to be, I try to live the Gospel message of a grain of wheat dying to self so that it might bear fruit. It is this sign of contradiction, the cross, of which the world scoffs at and ridicules and rejects that has become the cornerstone of my new life. There are several new approaches that I have now assumed into what I consider my Lay Cistercian spirituality.
- I find that, whereas I had a loose schedule of doing Cistercian practices (Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Reading Sacred Scripture, and those wrote about contemplative charisms and their effects on them), now, my whole day is one prayer in the morning to evening, where I seek “to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus,” and just wait to see what life brings. It may be my illnesses related to my heart or my ongoing battle with fatigue (my wife calls it laziness). Now, I choose to place myself in the presence of Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to be present. I just wait. My waiting is a prayer of gratitude to the Father for the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love that I have present but clearly have not earned or merited.
- I find that the five pillars of Cistercian spirituality as I have practiced as I know them (silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community) are one prayer and not separate stages of attainment. My work (being retired to sitting in a chair most of the day) is my prayer. The distinction that my humanity prompts me to make as a result of original sin seems to dissolve into just one prayer, work being prayer and prayer being work. The separation between the world of the flesh (my citizenship of the world) and the spirit (my citizenship of the spirit) becomes more and more the same.
- I don’t need to prove to anyone else that God is God or that I must prove God to anyone but myself. As I move forward toward the parousia, my mind still challenges those mysteries such as the Trinity, the Resurrection from the Dead, the Real Presence of the Eucharist, the Forgiveness of Sins, and my own failures in my life (not sins so much as just being a complete jerk to those with whom I have encountered). I have learned that all these failures and lost opportunities to love others as Christ loved me that have plagued my whole life are offerings to the Father to be lifted up through the blood of the Lamb and placed on the altar of sacrifice in atonement for my sins and failures.
- I find that my notion of who God is is, more and more, one who stands at the back of the Church on the last bench, with eyes lowered (custos oculi) and in silence and solitude, just uttering one, all-encompassing prayer, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner.” St. Benedict’s notion of humility, which begins with “Fear of the Lord,” has stuck in my consciousness. I can’t get past the notion that someone so beyond human nature wanted me to discover that what it means to be fully human according to my evolution is only attainable by becoming an adopted son (daughter) of the Father. All I have to do is learn from the Magister Noster that what is real is the opposite of what the world offers (good as it is).
- I find that I am beginning to understand what it means to “die to self so that I might rise to new life in Christ Jesus.” This dying is not a one-time event. Because I am immersed in the world and thus the effects of original sin, each day is a challenge, a struggle to take up my cross and follow Christ’s WAY. Each of us has our rocky road to walk. The constant is our goal, The Christ Principle. My Lay Cistercian journey is mine alone, but in union with all others who are Lay Cistercian and all believers.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen. –Cistercian doxology