In the monastery every occasion for presumption is to be avoided, and so we decree that no one has the authority to excommunicate or strike any member of the community unless given this power by the prioress or abbot. “Those who sin should be reprimanded in the presence of all, that the rest may fear” (1 Tim5:20). The young up to the age of fifteen should, however, be carefully controlled and supervised by everyone, provided that this too is done with moderation and common sense.
If any member, without the command of the abbot or prioress, assumes any power over those older, or even in regard to the young, flares up and treats them unreasonably, let that one be subjected to the discipline of the rule. After all, it is written: “Never do to another what you do not want done to yourself.” (Tob4:16).
The authority of monastic or contemplative leadership has its beginning and end in loving and compassionate relationship. The people who lead are leading because they are depthing in this kind of relating. In the experience of this depth they appreciate that God is the love life in all relating. They can (more or less) operate in the everyday from this place of love and mercy – a place in all of us. The love-life of God is authoring them. This authoring is the ground of their authority to lead.
Christian and human leadership is meant to be essentially contemplative. It is not about coercion or manipulation (subtle or explicit). Contemplative leadership is deeply mutual. This leadership has attention on the other and seeks to be sensitive and responsive to the movement of the Spirit from moment to moment. Its agenda is the growth of the Reign of Love in the person, the community, and in society.
For this leadership to occur, the leader themselves must forget enough of themselves. They have moved beyond egocentricity to such a degree that they are free enough to attend to the growth and life of the others around them.
Moving beyond egocentricity involves being healed enough to leave our woundedness to the hidden healing of God; it involves a relaxing and letting go of agendas that prioritise our own reputation and survival; it means being open to the truth of others as it comes to us; it means being secure enough in God and Self to participate in community and family without pre-judgement, that is, without confusing or conflating wisdom with our own biased perceptions.
Spiritual leadership has moved beyond egocentric presumption enough to operate in the realm of intuitive wisdom. Rather than presuming that it knows enough about a person and/or circumstance, it waits for the intuitive moment through which spiritual leadership can participate in what is best for all rather than act in ways that do not respect the unknown processes of life and living occurring around them. It is humble. It is not over confident. It is discrete.
Benedict was wise enough to realise that, ideally, “every occasion for presumption is to be avoided”. This is why he wanted the ways in which the Rule is set up to direct and discipline in the hands of people who are in the hands of mercy and love. Systems of growth must not be in the hands of manipulation and egoic agenda – no matter how good intentioned these hands may be.
Operating from our own presumption, however, is a very human thing to do. When do we know that presumption has fallen away and wisdom has set in? In our families and communities we may pre-assume many times a day. Often decisions need to be made without enough time to make them wisely. We may not yet be aware of the subtle ways in which our insecurities and fear subvert the promotion of life and love. Sometimes all we can do is pre-assume with love and hope for the best, knowing that God has things in hand.
There is nothing quite like living a commitment to others to reveal our presumptions. In the ordinary of life we soon discover the ways we do not think enough of others and the circumstances around us. We discover that we presume rather than ask. Cooking a meal without asking about another’s diet; that someone’s silence means they are ignoring us; that my plan for the day is non-negotiable.
Contemplative prayer is about giving time to that which cures our tendency to presumption and isolation. If we do not give time to our contemplative practice, whatever this practice may be, we will be stuck in these tendencies to some degree. In meditation we enter, each morning and evening, into a dynamic that moves attention from opinion into divine wisdom and open mindedness. We will always be vulnerable to presumption. The humble leader knows this. This is good reason to regularly practice meditation as an antidote to pre-judgement.
At Meditatio House we are discovering through experience that the commitment to community is also a part of our commitment to contemplative practice. Contemplative practice is simply being present to each moment with loving attention. This happens both in meditation and in the relationships we are all committed to. Whenever anyone attends lovingly now, contemplative practice is happening. Together we persevere in our practice.
Never speak sharply to a man older than yourself, but appeal to him as you would to your own father; treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers and young women as sisters with all propriety. (1Timothy5:1-2).