Members sent on a journey will ask the prioress or abbot and the community to prayer for them. All absent members should always be remembered at the closing prayer of the Opus Dei.
The Meditatio House community, at the conclusion of daily prayers, 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 beyond the house. This is not something that we necessary have to do – especially if it is simply a trip down to the local shops. 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. Any reacting to difficulty that might happen if we were present in the moment is put aside as we disassociate into what is ultimately unreality. Tension is avoided. So too, however, is an opportunity for growth within ourselves, communally, and with God.
Too much disassociation into daydreams, presumption etc, can mean that we are not in harmony with the communal life around us. As time goes on we begin live on two levels: the ego with its suffering and avoidance, and the deeper self that our suffering and avoidance covers up. Rather than life being the event of integration between ego and self, it becomes more a splintering, a disintegrating of consciousness.
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 Opus Dei. They ask for 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.
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.
The communal rhythm of prayer and meditation done at Meditatio House is one such ritual, as is also the weekly meditation group and our own daily meditation practice.
Today western culture encourages us to live in an ‘atomised state’ of hyper individualism. Communal ritual and the grace active in relational living is not prioritised. Culturally, we are too well practiced in egoic self-fulfilment. Again and again this tendency catches us off guard. It can be an evil in that it draws our attention and action away from who we truly are: relational and communal beings. Any commitment to communal living gives us what individualism cannot: the peace, the groundedness, and the stability of life necessary to grow truly and uniquely.
No monastic should presume to relate to anyone else what they saw or heard outside the monastery, because that causes the greatest harm. If any do 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 go anywhere, or do anything at all, however small, without the order of the abbot or prioress.
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, as the ‘regulator’, helping to keep everyone tuned in to the spirit of a loving community 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 can see them with the eyes of the heart and not entertain them.
The treasure that is community will always be relational and will always be inviting us to go beyond preoccupation on our own wants.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt6:19-21)