April 25, August 25, December 25
Monks sent on a journey will ask the abbot and community to pray for them. All absent monks should always be remembered at the closing prayer of the Work of God. When they come back from a journey, they should, on the very day of their return, lie face down on the floor of the oratory at the conclusion of each of the customary hours of the Work of God. They ask the prayers of all for their faults, in case they may have been caught off guard on the way by seeing some evil thing or hearing some idle talk.
No one should presume to relate to anyone else what they heard or saw outside the monastery, because that causes the greatest harm. If anyone does so presume, they shall be subjected to the punishment of the rule. So too shall anyone who presumes to leave the enclosure of the monastery, or to go anywhere, or do anything at all, however small, without the abbot’s order.
At Bonnevaux, at the conclusion of daily prayers, we follow the monastic practice of praying for absent members as we say together: ‘May the divine assistance always be with us, and with our absent brothers and sisters.’ What we do less of, however, is remembering to ask the community to pray for us as we embark on a journey. This is not something that we necessarily have to do – especially if it is simply a trip down the road. Yet this practice is something we could do more of, being a part of The World Community for Christian Meditation – a global community that can require global travel.
Journeying, of course, is not just physical. There are times during relating when a person can be absent while present. Attention is elsewhere. We are physically present, and yet can be psychologically on a journey ‘beyond’ the people we are with and the circumstance we are in.
Community, like meditation and life in general, is always inviting our senses back to the present moment. The present moment is in the ordinary of life. The Divine Life is in the present moment and nowhere else. Daydreams, fantasies, presumptions, judgements, thoughts, emotions – all these can catch attention and have our interior life journeying beyond the physical and ‘outside’ the now of life. This is, of course, all a part of the normal human experience of life.
What can tend to be abnormal, however, is when we spend more and more time in daydreams, fantasies, presumptions, judgments, thoughts and emotions at the expense of attention to the here and now.
Perhaps we come to journey in this way because we want to avoid the people and/or circumstance we encounter in the present. We may find a partner, a community member, a circumstance of life too hard to live with, so we imagine ‘better times’ or somewhere we would rather be – or perhaps we simply just shut down or disassociate into what is ultimately unreality. Tension is avoided. So too, however, is an opportunity for growth.
Too much disassociation into daydreams, presumption etc, can mean that we are not in harmony with the life around us. As time goes on, we can exist on the level of the ego with its suffering and avoidance and forget much of the deeper self that our suffering and avoidance can hide. Rather than life being the event of integration of ego and self, it becomes more a splintering, a disintegrating of consciousness.
It is important for every type of community to have rituals where connection and relationship are reaffirmed and attended to. Here we see Benedict outlining ritual for his community. It would be a stretch, today, to see family members lying prostrate before each other as they come home from a long day at school or work.
And yet here we see the importance of communal ritual in the life of relationship: the family meal; friends getting together for a game of cards; housework done together; the unique, simple, and ordinary ways of loving known only through intimacy: all these and more can be rituals of connection and relationship – if we can be attentive enough while we do them. Everyday ritual is what we can return to after psychologically wandering off. Prayer done together is one such ritual.
Benedict was conscious enough to realise that influences from outside the monastic community – influences not consistent with other-centred loving – can be released into the communal life via monastics journeying. He knew the threat that a ‘contagion’ of this kind spreading in the minds and hearts of community members could be to a loving life. He was aware of our own weaknesses and forgetfulness. He established the abbot, the community leader of his time, as the ‘regulator’, helping to keep everyone tuned in to the spirit of a loving communal life.
If the foundations of a loving community can be maintained, then the experience of love in community can become the ‘point of difference’ for members when alternative influences are introduced. Communal life lived and treasured helps us to see these influences in sharper focus. We see with the eyes of the heart. The treasure that is community will always be relational and will always be inviting us to go beyond a preoccupation on our own individual needs first.
But we must always thank God for you, brothers and sisters whom the Lord loves, because God chose you to be first-fruits for salvation in the Spirit who makes us holy and by faith in the truth. For this he called you through our gospel, to that you should obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Stand firm, then, brothers and sisters, and keep a firm grasp of the traditions which you were taught, either by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who has loved us, and in love given us everlasting encouragement and sure hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good word and deed. (2 Thess 2: 13-17, RNJB)