I feel like I've talked about the Abbey of Gethsemane a lot on here lately. It's my go-to place. I've only been there physically a handful of times, but I carry a part of the feeling I have when I'm there close to my heart. On a stressful day I can close my eyes and be sitting in that huge chapel in total silence with God as close as a whisper. It's serenity to me. The lifestyle of the monks that live there have a pull on this heart. Although I'm not called to live permanently the life lived in an abbey, since the first visit I've felt they have so much to offer our protestant lives.
This book has been on my nightstand for over a year. I'd flip through it now and again just long enough to know if I read it some things would have to change. In preparing for these 40 days with the Lord, I read it cover to cover. And I was right. This changes everything.
My Baptist friends always look at me like I have 3 heads when I tell them I love the Abbey. Generally I get the response, "You're not Catholic." Well, neither is Dennis Okholm. He commented from his time being at an abbey, "I felt totally immersed in scripture." And, "My attraction to monastic liturgy did not mean that I was becoming a Catholic. Instead, it threatened to turn me into a better protestant."
Here's the bottom line; good spiritual habits are good for our health and no religious group is mastering spiritual habits like the monks. We want the quick fix. Monks know there is none. You have to do the work. Chapter one reminds us that benedictine spirituality is not glamorous-it is extraordinarily ordinary. It's a life of habits that in turn develop character traits and muscles of the soul. Indeed, it aims at developing a healthy AND whole person.
Chapter 2 mentions that we have become consumers of religion rather than cultivators of a spiritual life. In the end, the goal of the Protestant and the Benedictine life is the same-to seek God.
By far my favorite part of the book comes from this chapter "What Benedictines have to offer Protestants in this quest is the lived reminder that the Christian community's ultimate function is to shape individuals who, as disciples of Christ, are being formed into his image. In fact, the test of any religious community that claims to be a Christian community is the extent to which the individuals in it, through their life together, are being transformed into the likeness of the one whose body they eat and whose blood they drink."
Chapter 3-learning to listen. I'm not a good listener. I listen for a living and I'm still not that good at it. I'm a talker, an explainer, a rambler and there's a place for all of that, but perhaps not in our spiritual lives. Benedict said, "When words are necessary-speak rarely, briefly, directly and simply. Speech that was malicious, gossip, tasteless or destructive was forbidden." I need that tattooed somewhere big in bold letters.
Chapter 4 describes poverty as the common ownership of all things and a great reminder that Greed cannot cohabite with contentment.
Chapter 5 discussed obedience. "Ultimately, obedience will not destroy the monk's liberty; it will strengthen it. The monk obeys in order to be freer than he would be if he did not." It hit me hard that "It's difficult to practice obedience and humility when you're the only one around." And I loved his quote, "Joining a monastery is a lot like joining the Marines. It's just the motivation is different."
I spent a long time in Chapter 6 on humility. "When we are humble we understand that we are not the exception. We are, like it or not, simply part of the human race."
Chapter 7 discusses Hospitality and you've NEVER experienced hospitality until you've spent a day or 2 at a monastery.
Chapter 8 also struck me hard. Stability. Staying put to get somewhere. I did not know that the vow of stability is unique to Benedictine monks. It's a commitment to stay with the same community for the rest of one's life. Stability means being faithful where we are. Here's another tattoo able quote, "Conversion and growth in character happen when we remain, not when we run." I'm such a runner. Conviction rains down. "If we cannot find God where we are, we will not find him elsewhere."
Chapter 9: Balance: God in everything. The keystone of Benedictine spirituality is balance. The daily office is such a wonderful practice for maintaining balance. Repeated times of prayer recenter us and remind us of what's important.
And finally, to change the world. "The call to Benedictine spirituality is similar to the call embraced by many Christians: to be in the world God created as loyalists to the cause of Christ.
In all the hours I've spent at the abbey, I've perhaps only heard the monks say 100 words. 90% of those words were scripture. Their lives rotate on an axis of predictability. The belief that God is always near and is in all things. They embrace the serious call to be like Him and to live for Him in word and deed. Their anxiety and stress is absent from the character traits they portray. Their peace is transferable without a single word. They have much to teach us if we will be still enough to hear.