Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mindfulness and Minding the Store

A little meditation, prompted in part by today's reading from the Rule of St Benedict on the kinds of Monks (RB Chapter 1).

I've been dealing a lot recently with the interior state of openness and mindfulness. Sometimes, I think, however, we get so preoccupied with the inward Light that we fail to fully utilize all of the tools at our disposal which our Lord has left us in order to bring us to Himself.

One such tool is, of course, that inward stillness or mindfulness which allows us to receive that Light and hear that voice. Discernment of one's own thoughts is one hallmark of that inward state of grace.

However, in true Christian spirituality nothing divine is ever solely an inward mandate. Christianity is a religion of the interior, that much is true. But it is also a religion of the exterior, of the physical, and of objective truth. When we cease moving between these two loci of inward contemplation and external guidance, then I think we find ourselves in danger of moving off of the Path. To be authentic to the Benedictine tradition and to Christian faith we need both to practice mindfulness and also to mind the store.

Benedict certainly recognized this danger which seems to be inherent in the monastic state. Reading today's excerpt from the Rule, I was struck by the fact that two of the types of monks he disparages seem to have taken themselves and their own "spiritual journey" with the utmost seriousness.

However, Benedict chastises both the Sarabaites and the Gyrovagues for displaying similar tendencies. Both groups seemed self- absorbed, with no external referent, either in the form of guidance from an external authority, or through the discipline of belonging in a commited way to a definite community.

The third kind of monks, a detestable kind, are the Sarabaites. These, not having been tested, as gold in the furnace (Wis. 3:6), by any rule or by the lessons of experience, are as soft as lead. In their works they still keep faith with the world, so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God. They live in twos or threes, or even singly, without a shepherd, in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord's. Their law is the desire for self-gratification: whatever enters their mind or appeals to them, that they call holy; what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.

The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues. These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province, staying as guests in different monasteries for three or four days at a time. Always on the move, with no stability, they indulge their own wills and succumb to the allurements of gluttony, and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites. Of the miserable conduct of all such it is better to be silent than to speak.

Passing these over, therefore, let us proceed, with God's help, to lay down a rule for the strongest kind of monks, the Cenobites.

In my own experience I have found a corrective to these tendencies in two different directions. First, one way to mind the store is by belonging to and being responsibile to a definite community... a monastic house of formation, a parish, or some other group where one can regularly check-in.

In God's heaven there are no "lone rangers." There is no chorus of just "me and Jesus." A part of that community membership is finding and keeping faith with a spiritual director. One cannot easily relate to an entire group of people, be it a dozen or 13,000 other Christians. And there is something very salutary in meeting with someone else one-on-one on a regular basis, and treating that relationship as a divine appointment.

Sometimes it's as simple as pouring out one's heart and asking "am I crazy for feeling this way or what?" I know that in 12 step communites there is a similar group practice known as "check-in." People go around the circle and share "what's up" with them. It's kind of messy, and probably not where I am at this point in my life. But the point in both spiritual direction and this modern day group-hug equivvalent is the same: a call to individual accountability and growth.

Because we are Christians, and Catholic Christians at that. we are also called to another form of accountability. It is less face-to-face than spiritual direction, but just as powerful and even more necessary for our growth in spirit.

We are called to respond in a positive way to the Magesterium of the Church, that body of teachings from the group of Bishops in union with our Holy Father the Pope. They help us understand what it is that God wants us to do.

It's a tough discipline to pursue in this do-it-myself, I-did-it-my-way world. But it's also a sure way to avoid running aground spiritually. I spent a lot of years trying out different spiritualities, finding truth in the Bible, prayer, spiritual techniques, theological study and a dozen other religious pursuits. However, it was not until I made a commitment to study and be changed by the truths taught in the Roman Catholic Church that I began to see and find my life moved concretely in a God-ward direction.

Not that I have arrived, or am even close to getting "There." But I am definitely closer to God's heart now than I've ever been before in my 50+ years. And for that I am very thankful.

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