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.

Abbot Phillip: ‘Seek Peace and Pursue It or Play Host to Anger’

Abbot Phillip
Abbot Phillip

Abbot Phillip Lawrence, OSB, at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico, offers these reflections on the paradoxical struggle for peace:

“The challenge for anyone who wants peace is to create peace within.  That is the first challenge. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said in one of his sayings that if we acquire a spirit of peace, and thousands of souls will be saved around us.  We don’t have to fight the world or to fight others. The first and really only battle is with ourselves. In much of the spiritual tradition, there is reference to the spiritual struggle, the spiritual battle, etc. That battle is always against ourselves so that we may have peace and love others without judging them.

In my own life I have gone through times when peace has been easy and has been a wonderful gift. At other times, though, I can feel my own reactions which are against peace. That is the point where there is a choice: seek peace and pursue it or play host to my bad feelings and angers and lusts and fears and let them push my life in all directions. Just because I try to choose to seek peace does not make it easy! Instead, part of growing in the spiritual life is learning to embrace such battles and not weary in pursuing peace. Most of us know when we have accepted anger or lust or fear or laziness.

It is when we become aware that we have accepted such realities in our lives that we have the chance to choose against them.  Sometimes these realities creep up on us and we are not aware of them. But in that moment that we become aware, we have the choice. If we are engaged in the spiritual battle regularly, we tend to make better choices, even if not always the best choices. So if I were to give advice to anyone about the spiritual life, it would be simple:  start now to try to do God’s will!  No matter how often you fail, keep on trying.  In time good things will begin to happen along with the necessary suffering that trying to do His will entails. … Stay with it! …

So often, when we seek the spiritual life, we are hoping to feel good.  An honest spiritual life sometimes has those moments of feeling good.  But it also has long stretches of not feeling much and sometimes periods of feeling awful about ourselves, about others and even about God.  Be prepared to suffer if you want a deep spiritual life.”–Abbot Philip, Christ in the Desert

Read Abbot Philip’s whole reflection.

Abbot Phillip: On Training a Puppy

Abbot Phillip
Abbot Phillip

From Abbot Phillip’s Notebook (2014-04-30):

“Many years ago when I arrived in New Mexico, a good friend gave me a horse and told me: you can learn a lot about humans by watching this horse. Some months ago, we received a beagle puppy who is now 11 months old. He is just learning the disciplines of obedience. Again, I can see so many human reactions and responses in this puppy and he grows into a mature dog.

I see a lot of myself in him, but also see so much of our human situation. Right now the challenge with Joshua the Beagle is to have him get used to wearing a harness and walking with me. I am not his master, but I work on his training. He hates the harness. When I put it on him, he stops doing anything and just stands there, stubborn as he can be. He will not come even for a treat. Becoming a monk, or even becoming a Christian, is a bit like that. Learning to live a spiritual life is very much like that. No one wants a harness today. We want completely liberty. Yet it is the harness and obedience that give a dog happiness in the long run and protect the dog against accidents and incidents that anger others.

Continue reading “Abbot Phillip: On Training a Puppy”

Abbot Philip: ‘We are not called to be unctuous or overly sweet or overly pious in a bad way.’

Today we have an odd collection of readings.  Job, in the first reading, is so depressed and overwhelmed by the awfulness of life that he is sure that he will never see happiness again.  The ending of the Book of Job, of course, shows him totally restored and once again happy.  All of go through periods, however, in which we have some doubts about the happiness of this life, some doubts about God’s care for us and perhaps even a lot of doubts about our capacity to keep on living.The second reading, from the First Letter to the Corinthians, is about preaching the Gospel.  The word, Gospel, means Good News or Good Tidings.

This is a huge contrast to the feelings of Job in the first reading.  Paul is willing to give his whole life to preaching the Gospel and will receive no human recompense at all.  Why?  Because he knows that only in this way can he also share in the promises of the Gospel.You and I are called to preach the Gospel in the way we live each day.  It is not as though we must leave what we are doing, get on the road and go about talking.  No, we are invited to live in such a way that people will become interested in the Gospel just by seeing how we live. Mark’s Gospel picks up this same theme of preaching the Gospel.  Jesus Himself tells us that He has come to proclaim the Gospel.  No matter if He is tired, not matter if He is pushed on all sides—still, He knows that the Father has sent Him to proclaim the Good News.We are invited today to live with Christ.  It is He who lives in us.  All we need to do is allow His presence to shine through us.  We don’t have to do anything spectacular.  If we live with love and care for others, this shows through us.  If we are willing to suffer for Christ, this also shows through us.  We are not called to be unctuous or overly sweet or overly pious in a bad way.  We are called to know Christ’s love for us and to respond to that love by loving others.–Abbot Philip,OSB, Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico