Video: Desert Monks on Balancing a Strong Work Ethic with Inner Peace

In the 1990s I was able to visit Christ in the Desert Monastery near Abiquiu, New Mexico. Though my time there as a guest was too short, the visit expanded by gaze of the spiritual landscape. The lives of the monks there connected me more deeply with the early Desert Mothers and Fathers. Walking the rough lumenaria-lit trail to the chapel at 3 a.m. under a diamond-studded velvet desert sky was a conversion experience.

Possibly most profound was for the first time in my life I experienced a community of men where I felt completely safe and cared for. Women around the world live in constant fear and rarely have the joys of walking at night alone. At Christ in the Desert I experienced the best of the masculine spirit in service to God.

Lent seems a good time to go back to the desert.

Video: Desert Monks on What Work Means

In the 1990s I was able to visit Christ in the Desert Monastery near Abiquiu, New Mexico. Though my time there as a guest was too short, the visit expanded by gaze of the spiritual landscape. The lives of the monks there connected me more deeply with the early Desert Mothers and Fathers. Walking the rough lumenaria-lit trail to the chapel at 3 a.m. under a diamond-studded velvet desert sky was a conversion experience.

Possibly most profound was for the first time in my life I experienced a community of men where I felt completely safe and cared for. Women around the world live in constant fear and rarely have the joys of walking at night alone. At Christ in the Desert I experienced the best of the masculine spirit in service to God.

Lent seems a good time to go back to the desert.

St. Benedict: Pray. Work. Read.

Painting of Benedict from Peramiho, Tanzania. Kanuni means "Rule" in Swahili.

Today is the feast day of St. Benedict. If you’ve had a chance to see the amazing movie Of Gods and Men – about Trappist monks in Algeria in the mid-1990s – then you’ll appreciate learning more about St. Benedict of Nursia, one of the founders of monasticism. Below is a short reflection on Benedict from Sr. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister.

There is one thing Benedict teaches us before all other possible insights about the spiritual life and that is this: God is with us. It is as simple as that. God does not need to be earned. God cannot be merited. God is not persuaded by human behavior to attend to us. God is not intent on ignoring us. “The divine presence is everywhere,” St. Benedict tells us.

God is the very breath of our souls, the creative energy that gives us life and carries us through all our days. God, our hope, is the magnet that draws us and the spirit that carries us from dark to light through life. Our beginning and our end is God, our present hope and life eternal.

We come to rest in that assurance, St. Benedict says, by realizing that whatever happens to us in life — when things go wrong, when our plans go awry, when our future seems dashed and the present seems impossible — God’s will for us is our welfare and not our woe.

Along the way, God sends guides to light our path — spiritual mentors and models to lead us, taskmasters to train us, disciplines to curb us — so that, for those “who endure and not grow weary,” growth from the trivial to the significant may be complete. Then, aware of our own limitations, honest in our sense of self, subdued in our demands of the world and simple in our needs, we lose the demons of exaggerated expectations. We are ready now to take life as it comes to us, unafraid and secure in the presence of God to lead us through it.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Searching for Balance by Joan Chittister (Abbey Press)

Thomas Merton: Abyss of Solitude

“However, the truest solitude is not something outside you, not an absence of humans or of sound around you; it is an abyss opening up in the center of your own soul.

And this abyss of interior solitude is a hunger that will never be satisfied with any created thing.” —Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Directions Books 1961, p. 80- 81)

What Does the Contemplative Life Require?

merton-jean-jacketCatholic monk and writer Thomas Merton grew into his contemplative life at Gethsemane monastery in Kentucky. He didn’t enter the monastery as a full-blown contemplative. He learned his calling over time.

As I explore what it means to nurture and cultivate a Christian contemplative life while living in the inner city and working an 8-hour day to the rhythms of the American work force, I find Merton’s list below revealing.

This will give us some idea of the proper preparation that the contemplative life requires. A life that is quiet, lived in the country, in touch with the rhythm of nature and the seasons. A life in which there is manual work, the exercise of arts and skills, not in a spirit of dilettantism, but with genuine reference to the needs of one’s existence. The cultivation of the land, the care of farm animals, gardening. A broad and serious literary culture, music, art, again not in the spirit of Time and Life – (a chatty introduction to Titian, Prexiteles, and Jackson Pollock) – but a genuine and creative appreciation of the way poems, pictures, etc., are made. A life in which there is such a thing as serious conversation, and little or no TV. These things are mentioned not with the insistence that only life in the country can prepare a [person] for contemplation, but to show the type of exercise that is needed.–Thomas Merton

The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, edited by William H. Shannon (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003, p.131).