Above all, they must not show too great a concern for the fleeting and temporal things of this world, neglecting or treating lightly the welfare of those entrusted to them. Rather, they should keep in mind that they have undertaken the care of souls for whom they must give an account. That they may not plead lack of resources as an excuse, they are to remember what is written: “Seek first the reign and justice of God, and all these things will be given you as well” (Matt. 6:33), and again, “Those who reverence the Holy One lack nothing” (Ps. 34:10)
The prioress and abbot must know that anyone undertaking the charge of souls must be ready to account for them. Whatever the numbers of members they have in their care, let them realise that on judgement day they will surely have to submit a reckoning to God for all their souls – and indeed for their own as well. In this way, while always fearful of the future examination of the shepherd about the sheep entrusted to them and careful about the state of others’ accounts, they become concerned also about their own, and while helping others to amend by their warnings, they achieve the amendment of their own faults.
The first words here might seem to hold a contradiction. Surely concern for the temporal is to care for others? We need to eat, we need clothing, shelter, money, good health, an education. However, The Rule points us to the gospel understanding that “too great a concern” for these things is to neglect the welfare of the whole of us (Matt 19:19-26). We are temporal and spiritual. The temporal is the place where we grow in spirit. As we do this together we support each other and discover that worry recedes.
We soon come to see that many a want is dressed up as a need. The uncovering of this can be painful. Do I really need those new shoes, that new phone? The practicalities of communal life soon show us what is important: a new lawn mower or a new television, a new car or my children’s education? The presence of those with us who are wise in the Spirit helps us to see where we are blind to the kingdom – the “reign and justice of God”. The kingdom is that way of being conscious in the world that realises and embraces how little we actually need.
‘If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together’ (words of an unknown First Australian – Aboriginal – woman).
These words are consistent with the spirit of The Rule presented here. The community leader is never better than their fellow community members; they are on the same journey as everyone else. Conversion is not done in isolation, not done apart from others. We become love in Christ by loving, and we can only deepen in love as we love. Loving ourselves is losing egocentricity – forgetting ourselves. Loving others is the same – forgetting ourselves. The community leader models for us that Christian spirituality is thoroughly human. Only together are we healed enough to grow in love.
Love is the forgetting of self. God as self-emptying (forgetting) love shows us this. We need to be on a journey of healing and transformation to realise this. The journey is the experiencing of this healing and transformation. We follow the community leader, and leaders, on this journey as we all walk together. Our original self is of this love. Together we journey back to this original way of being.
Consequently, community is a place of revelation and struggle, honesty and deception, joy and pain. The balanced community leader gives space in themselves for all of this so that community might be a catalyst for a balanced human journey for all. Community can be a gentle and compassionate place to ‘crash and burn’ and an encouraging place to thrive. Both are necessary. For many, crashing and burning is part of the journey into thriving. Wisdom knows this.
At Meditatio House we are realising that seeking divine justice is about charting a course into honesty. Community is all about learning the gentle art of honesty: how and when to be honest with both ourselves and others. At the heart of this we have our common times of meditation. Meditation is the gentle, still and silent practice of honesty. In community we discover that “we cannot meditate and not be honest” (Laurence Freeman).
Gentleness is so important. John Main describes gentleness as perhaps The Rule’s “most important characteristic”. It is easy to lose sight of this as we repeatedly get lost in egocentric hardness and performance. We can look at the words of The Rule through the eyes of a hard egoism and miss its gentleness. It teaches us that growing in gentleness is growing in Christ. A community leader, as an example of this growth, can be gently and tenderly full of care. In this they show us what it is to be in Christ and of Christ. To be gentle in Christ is forgetting self-consciousness. In this forgetting we love and are ourselves.
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. (Gal 6:1-5)