Abbot Phillip: Not Hermits, But Communal Creatures

Abbot Phillip
Abbot Phillip

Abbot Phillip writes a weekly notebook from Christ in the Desert monastery in New Mexico. Here’s an excerpt from his recent offering:

More and more I see that an authentic human life has to be centered in this relationship of each person with God. This personal relationship with God always expresses itself in relationships with other people. Even hermits are not so apart from the human condition that their relationship is with God alone. Instead, in our Christian tradition, we always expect hermits to be praying for the world, for the Church and for other people.

Most of us are not hermits. Instead, we live in communities. We live in families or we live in religious communities. And families and religious communities live in a larger society as well. We are all connected in various ways. Often we think that the deepest connections are of our choosing. On the other hand, it is God Himself who has chosen us and who has given us our being, our bodies, our families of origin and who even now is working within us in the depths of our being.

Jesus almost presume that ti be human is to live in community. In every society there are people, both women and men, who live apart by choice—but most of them are not hermits. They are people who for one reason or another don’t have a bond to another person or to family in which they live.

Does it make any difference? At most levels, not much. No matter whether we live with others or not, we are still called to love everyone and to seek the face of this God who loves us. For me, it is very easy to forget about God and to live just trying to avoid difficulties in my life and in the life of others.

Spending time with God often feels to me like wasting time doing nothing. That is my challenge. Others have other challenges. Even the most active and extroverted person needs to take time along with God now and then. When I do take time with God, it is a very positive experience. I don’t know why I avoid it so much. Don’t think that I avoid God completely. Even on a normal day, without focusing on spending time with God, I probably spend about four hours in community prayer and another hour in lectio or private prayer.

What do I mean by spending time with God? For me, that indicates putting aside the other things that I do, such as correspondence, arranging schedules, being touch with brothers and sisters all over the world, checking on the business affairs of the community.

When I spend time with God, I have to put all of that aside and ignore if anything else is going to happen. Often I go into a room where no one will look for me and sit with the readings for the Mass that day—not trying to accomplish anything with the readings, but just being with God and with His Word. Sometimes I just sit an pray the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. Sometimes I seek to be aware of God’s presence without words. Sometimes such times of being with God are really easy. Other times, it is like doing exercise that I do not like!

The challenge for me is simply to do this, whether I feel like it or not. For me, it is like a commitment to be with the Lord, whether I feel His presence or not, whether I feel a drawing to His presence or not. It goes along with my commitment to be present at the common life in my community.–Abbot Phillip, Christ in the Desert Benedictine monastery

Ready Abbot Philip’s full reflection.

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