March 26, July 26, November 25
If someone commits a fault while at any work – while working in the kitchen, in the storeroom, in serving, in the bakery, in the garden, in any craft or anywhere else – either by breaking or losing something or failing in any other way in any other place, the monk must at once come before the abbot and community and of their own accord admit the fault and make satisfaction. If it is made known through another, the monk is to be subjected to a more severe correction.
When the cause of the sin lies hidden in their conscience, the monk is to reveal it only to the abbot or to one of the spiritual elders, who know how to heal their own wounds as well as those of others, without exposing them and making them public.
Accidents will happen. Things get lost. Carelessness is a part of life. At a purely functional level, it is good for others in the community to know, for example, that you have just broken something or lost something.
Perhaps though, similar to the previous chapter, there is something operating in us that is making it hard for us to admit error and misadventure. Maybe we are too caught up in our fear of what others may think or do, or perhaps simply unaware of the effect what has just happened will have on others. To be honest with news of error is to honour both the people we live with and the relationships we have with them. It means that we are aware and attentive in community, choosing to live in community and not simply existing with others. Sometimes though it is hard to admit a mistake.
Empathy and other-centredness can manifest powerfully in small daily events: putting petrol in the car so someone else doesn’t have to do it, raking the leaves, noticing that the bread and milk are low and buying more, filling the water bottle – whatever small things they may be. The experience of community living tells us that doing little things and little acts of honesty are what deep care, love, and appreciation all grow in and from.
Fidelity to the ordinary, everyday is an act of mature love. Any corrections that happen need to be given in this spirit of mature love. Disclosure of a fault is not an occasion for shaming and condemning. It’s about the building up of trust, honesty and forgiveness within the communal experience itself. This can have the effect of breaking down the inner barriers we have to these traits within us. In this way the communal can serve the personal and the personal can serve the communal.
Failure to do the little things can sometimes mean that we are struggling with something or someone and the way they do things. Sometimes the reason for error can be subconscious or unconscious. Ambivalence towards error and forgetfulness can sometimes point to something psychologically unresolved and unacknowledged. All of this requires the love and observational wisdom of an ‘old soul’ – the community leader or a spiritual elder within the community. Someone, in other words, who has ‘been there and done that’ and is in the position of being healed enough themselves to be of assistance in the healing of another.
This healing assistance, when done wisely and lovingly, respects the integrity and life of the one requiring healing. The communal – cloistered, oblate, friends, family – can be the place where intimate knowledge both of ourselves as healer and the other as in need of healing come together in simple, profound, and rich ways.
Community healers are people of grace who know from experience that they are participating in God’s own healing of them: their ego is enough in its place. They also know that mistakes are opportunities to grow in grace and integration: they are humble enough. These wise people know their limits, they are mindful, growing in compassion. They often have a communally formed empathic imagination which they can use to good effect in the act of loving another, often subtly and quietly, into wholeness.
In community, because members all share in the daily work, there are plenty of occasions when they can come into contact with what someone else has not (yet) done, or perhaps not done ‘well enough’. And people of different cultures do things differently, sometimes to the point of another’s frustration. Any group of people who are committed to each other will have to negotiate the gentle art of patience and how best to assist another as they learn what it means to care in the practicalities of life lived together. So too, the idiosyncrasies of another can be invitations to learn new ways to be other-centred, if we care enough.
Together, our daily practice of meditating is what grounds us. We share in the silence and together we are quietly changed in this silence, growing in love for each other.
God’s righteousness comes to all who believe through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and all are freely justified by the gift of his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3: 21-24, RNJB)