Marvellous paradoxes

Reading the Rule of Benedict frequently reminds me of the mysterious way in which apparent gospel contradictions can reveal marvellous paradoxes – and, so, release different aspects of the same truth that then further enrich and transform us.

In Matthew 11, Jesus touches our hearts with a kind and light touch when he invites all those who are weary with life to come to him, learn from his gentleness and humility, and accept his light yoke and easy burden. In any true lectio on this passage, we will probably be given a glimpse of what metanoia means. We change our lives and undergo conversatio morum in such a way that we feel an unspeakable relief in the face of the heaviest problems and crosses we have to carry in life. Daily existence acquires something of the incredible lightness of being.

But then listen to Jesus speaking about following him in Mark 7. Here his tone is very different, sterner and less inclusive. The road that leads to life is narrow and only a few find it.

Benedict and the early monastic founders understood monastic commitment as a second baptism in which the true meaning of the Christian promises are re-discovered. Benedict warns of the hard challenges of this way of self-renunciation and emphasises the freedom we must feel when we commit ourselves to it. But then, he soon says, after an initial encounter with the hardness of discipline, we come to ‘run along the way of the Lord’s commands with an unspeakable sweetness of love.’

Maybe undertaking a contemplative practice is like starting to live the monastic life; they are each a re-baptism and re-discovery of what discipleship means. Because meditation creates community, we soon find ourselves inside a ‘school of the Lord’s service’. The Master of this School teaches each of us uniquely how we are to serve him and what kind of work we are called to undertake.

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Contemplative Exchange group in Snowmass

Narrowness and expansion, discipline and lightness. We reflected on these paradoxes recently at Snowmass Monastery in Colorado when a group of younger contemplative teachers and scholars converged from the WCCM, Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation, Thomas Keating’s Contemplative Outreach and Tilden Edward’s Shalem Institute. When the four ‘founders’ (though we were ambivalent about this description) met last year to discuss the work of contemplative wisdom today we agreed to invite five representatives of our communities or networks to explore the question in the light of the next generation. Two of our five were oblates.

I felt equally proud of each of them for the way they participated and represented our own path It was a most fruitful time of prayer and discernment, with a self-evidently deep and diverse group of twenty younger people committed strongly to the contemplative path and serving the Lord through it. It showed the vitality of the monastic path as a way of transmission but also the quite new ways in which it is already being transformed – so that tradition can be regenerated and we who are ‘students in the Kingdom’ can ‘bring forth things new and old’ from our inner rooms as a contemplative way of serving the global needs of our time.

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