Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Monastic Bow

If you step inside a monastery or view a monastic choir, one thing that may strike you is that we do a lot of bowing.  What is this bow all about? We bow when entering the Church, during the liturgy, and to each other and to guests.  Bowing becomes part of our custom and way of life.   It is a way of giving respect and honor to the other - a letting go of my own self importance.  Like the sign of the cross, the bow is a body prayer.
As I bow, I am reminded of the earth and my own littleness.  It brings me back to the "humus" of humility.  But something wonderful can happen when I bow.  I can be overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.  In becoming open to the other - God, my neighbor, the earth - I find a much deeper relationship even with myself.  Benedict says it this way, "All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them."  Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 53.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Feast of All Saints of the Benedictine Family

Today we celebrate Benedictine saints.  As Cistercians we include our saints as well, the famous ones like St Bernard and the many unknown holy monks and nuns who have lived their monastic life in fidelity and love.  At Lauds (Morning Praise) this morning, we read the following proclamation from the Rule of St Benedict:
As we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. (Rule of St Benedict, Prologue)
How well this quote summarizes the Cistercian Monastic quest.  This is certainly the life we seek with God and our brothers and sisters.  It is a path to union with God made possible through the reformation of our hearts in the Image of Christ. Below the well known scholar monk, Charles Dumont, articulates this quality of Cistercian Spirituality.
By their solicitude to be true to the Gospel in their reform of the monastic life, the first Cistercians gave a special place to three themes: greater faithfulness to the spirit and the letter of the Rule of Saint Benedict, stricter personal and communal solitude which foster contemplative prayer, and love of Christ poor and humble: the God who became man.  It is this last one, the Divine Incarnation, which St Bernard endeavored to develop, thereby giving a new sensitivity to all Christian spirituality: Christ approached humanity by love.  This soon became the principal charism of the Cistercians' life, both interior and exterior.  Application to reading and studying the Bible and their spiritual masters' commentaries on it, especially their homilies on that sacred song of love, the Song of Songs, made their teaching and life what they call a school of charity - even a special school of charity, or a school of the Holy Spirit.  In this school, first of all and above all, one teaches and learns to obey God's first commandment, the source from which the others flow:  "You shall love..." (Mt 22:37).  There the monk or nun applies him or herself first of all to studying the psychology of love which for them is founded on freedom.  Freedom is the most distinctive trait of the soul created in the image and resemblance of the Creator's infinite freedom.  A human being's freedom is exercised especially in natural affectivity which by grace becomes charity or spiritual love."  (quoted in Charles Dumont Monk - Poet, A Spiritual Biography, Elilzabeth Connor, OCSO pp. 170-171)