April 27, August 27, December 27
Every precaution must be taken that one monk does not presume in any circumstance to defend another in the monastery or to be their champion, even if they are related by the closest ties of blood. In no way whatsoever shall the monks presume to do this, because it can be a most serious source and occasion of contention. Anyone who breaks this rule is to be sharply restrained.
In groups, families, communities, with those whom we love: what is our motivation for helping or defending another? Does the person we are helping have something we value – influence, status, good looks? Are we defending the behaviour of a family member, or perhaps our employer, because reputation or financial security is more important to us than just and truthful relations? Rather than risk an open discussion with a loved one or someone in a position of power, do we ‘assist’ them to avoid the truth of themselves and their actions because we might be afraid of their response? Anxiousness about others reactions to our actions can be a powerful motivator. At the heart of us we often fear abandonment, alienation, a loss of status.
Growing into a loving life is not about living relationally because I crave something from someone, or because I am fearful. We do, of course, live this way of need and fear. However, God is with us to mature us, bit by bit, beyond this. The life of any one of us who is being influenced by Divine Love (no matter the source of this love in our lives) is a life being coaxed into the response-ability of loving. The rule is about setting the conditions of community life up in such a way that they serve our growth in this responsible loving.
Responsibility is not reactivity. If we are reacting to circumstance and people in our lives then we are not yet enough in love to respond with love. Unmet need and woundedness are still the captains of our souls. We are all like this to some extent.
And yet love remains active in our lives, even in lives which seem abandoned by love. Christianity teaches that the love life in and within does not depend on us for its being – it is divine. And so it waits and moves in mysterious ways, always moving us from reactivity and into responsibility. As this happens we discover our motivations for doing things, for helping, for defending.
A community inspired by the rule is a community that sees the practical ways of each day as ways through which we can discover our motivations and grow in this responsibility of love – all done within a routine that fosters space for grace. Our reactions and responses to each other are, when we notice them, experiences that can assist us into self-knowledge and healing. As this healing happens we discover ourselves supported by the grace that lives in us and in the community we live in. As our suffering subsides, we forget ourselves and grow in love.
Within the WCCM, we know from experience that meditation is a part of this relational and communal way of being healed away from reactivity and into mature loving. Meditators across the world continue to testify to the diminishment of reactivity in their lives because they meditate, because they practice the giving of attention to this life of love within. As we meditate together we rediscover and deepen in a disposition that is foundational to all humanity: we are most alive when we are being together for others – when we love. A life dominated by fear simply cannot forget itself long enough to discover and live from this loving disposition.
Mature community provides the necessary framework and support for us to experience this growth in love. It does not strive to protect us from life. It guides us in life without taking the experience of life from us that would have us growing in love. Defending the other against life and experience can frustrate this growth. Helping someone away from life’s growth experiences can risk engendering in them a dependency on the helper. Or perhaps it could help create resentment in the one being helped. This kind of help, when motivated by fear and control, can also encourage authoritarianism.
Sometimes love supports by withdrawing action within a supportive environment. This withdrawing is part of the life of discretion: knowing when to act and when not to and being able to move back and forth between loving action and loving non-action – doing so compassionately, reverently, gently.
But what if the community leadership lacks this wisdom? What should happen if the supportive environment and routines of a community have lapsed? Benedict is ever faithful in believing that goodness and the Spirit of God will never desert us. The human journey of community will meander, always moving back and forth, criss-crossing the path of love and grace. Moving too far from the path will always, somehow, be a catalyst for a turning back.
The experience of this meandering life of growth into love and responsibility has helped many spiritual people to come to the realisation that if they are to become loving people, they need God to heal and meet their unmet needs. For the mature monastic and the committed Christian, all our helping will have this realisation at its heart. The rule is about assisting us to mature into this realisation that we need God in this way. Does our helping serve the maturing of this realisation in the other, or does it get in the way?
So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another to be cured; the prayer of the righteous works powerfully. My brothers and sisters, if one of you strays away from the truth, and another brings back the stray, that person may be sure that the one who brings back a sinner from erring ways will be saving the sinner’s soul from death and covering over a multitude of sins. (James 5: 16, 19-20, RNJB)