Every precaution must be taken that one member 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 monastics 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.
Relationships are what Love can use to heal us into responsibility. This can be deeply challenging. Any group life that is about fostering community is about creating, respecting, and reverencing space for responsible growth, growth in self forgetting so that we may grow in love. Meditatio House, at its best, is a space, a community, where the challenging work of responding in and with love can be supported and nurtured. The family as community, the friendship group as community, are no different.
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.
At Meditatio House, and 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 neediness and 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. This is the way of someone wise in and responsive to the divine life. The community leader requires discretion. The community is best served when discretion is with its wiser members. Too much action motivated by reactivity can undermine both the community and the guidance of a wise community leader.
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. (James1:19-20,26).
But what if the community leadership lacks this wisdom? What should happen if the supportive environment and routines of a community have lapsed and those without the temperament or position necessary to live in such circumstances are suffering? What of the prophetic voice in the midst of this who wants to help the community to get back on track? Benedict is ever faithful in believing that goodness and the Spirit of God will always be with 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?
To need God is not neediness in another guise. The life of God is complete freedom in love – a life no one can ever fully be themselves. The paradox is that we need God to act in us to free and heal us so that we can move beyond neediness and into love. This is what it means for God to be our salvation. The life of God saves us from attachment and craving, healing us for loving, (that is, for true helping). As this happens we let go, bit by bit, into the experience that the divine life within us is our strength. Fear falls away and divine strength blooms in the psyche as our own. We need God to move us beyond neediness if we are to become the strength that loves for loves sake.
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. (Isaiah12:2)
(Image by Christopher Santer)