Behind this monastery door lies a way of life. Monks have intentionally created spaces for centuries, holding all things in common while cultivating quiet lives set apart from the culture of the world. Opening this monastic door offers a glimpse of a way of living and being with intentional rhythms of work, prayer, and rest while embracing, not merely submitting to, the life of conversion.
Ronald Rolheiser, in his thoughtful and encouraging book Domestic Monastery, compares a mother living at home with small children to life in a monastery, saying "Perhaps, more so even than the monk or the minister of the gospel, she is forced, against her will, to mature. For years, while she is raising small children, her time is not her own, her own needs have to be put into second place, and every time she turns around some hand is reaching out demanding something." Rolheiser says that the mother's prayer is her work. Much like monks in a monastery who have created space for interruption and self-giving, mothers and fathers are often forced to stop and pay attention in the midst of their doing. Much like the sound of the bells for prayer in a monastery, each interruption for a parent in their day, whether it be the sound of crying or joy-filled laughter, is an invitation to move to the next thing because it's time. It's also an invitation to be actively present to where God is at work in the moment, which can been viewed as a kind of body prayer with a flexible heart.
For those of us who have more time on our hands for private prayer, the desert fathers and mothers have said, "Go into your cell and it will teach you all you need to know." A monastic cell is intentionally sparse. We have an opportunity to be present to what is in this time of forced pandemic isolation. To take time to be with ourselves and God in the midst of it -- to see what this moment has to teach us. Many times we think growing closer to God looks like doing more. What if in the less right now is the more? What would it look like for us to slow down and be present to what God has for us in it? To fully cooperate with life as we are being given?
No matter our season in life, it is our relationship with God and our spiritual practices that create space for His deepening in our lives. Time is the currency in which the spiritual practices live, and we can choose to slow down in order to build a rich reservoir of experience in the present moment. Spiritual practices lead us to give up control to God. Practices such as lectio divina, silence, solitude, and stillness cultivate active dependence on God. They also help us practice being present so it's easier for us to notice and cooperate with the Holy in the ordinary. Spiritual practices aren't meant to be done perfectly. Like practicing an instrument, we can't possibly improve, though, if we don't practice.
Some questions we might ask ourselves are: are we creating regular rhythms and practices that create space for us stop when it's time to stop, and not just because everything is done? Are we taking the time to slow down and be fully present in each moment? Are we actively surrendering and giving up control to God in His ongoing creation of us? Are we taking on more of God's energy?
A rich, abundant life found in Christ can be experienced in the midst of our lives in and through the present moment. The spiritual freedom and love of Christ we receive will not only impact us, it will organically flow out to those around us. One only needs to open the door with a heart of compassionate hospitality to create the space.
At the beginning of each day,
after we open our eyes
to receive the light
of that day,
As we listen to the voices
that surround us,
We must resolve to treat each hour
as the rarest of gifts,
and be grateful for the consciousness
that allows us to experience it,
recalling in thanks
that our awareness is a present
from we know not where
or how, or why.
When we rise from sleep let us rise for the joy
of the true Work that we will be about
and considerately cheer one another on.
Life will always provide matters for concern.
Yet each day brings with it reasons for
Each day carries the potential to bring the experience of heaven;
have the courage to expect good from it.
Be gentle with this life,
and use the light of life
to live fully in your time.
John McQuiston II in Always We Begin Again
Tongua Williams is in the practicum stage of a five year Ignatian spiritual director training program through St. Scholastica monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas.