As often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the prioress or abbot shall call the whole community together and explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice of the members, let them ponder it and follow what they judge to be the wiser course. The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Spirit often reveals what is better to the younger. The community members, for their part, are to express their opinions with all humility, and not presume to defend their own views obstinately. The decision is rather the prioress’s or abbot’s to make, so that when the abbot or prioress of the community has determined what is more prudent, all must obey. Nevertheless, just as it is proper for disciples to obey their teacher, so it is becoming for the teacher to settle everything with foresight and fairness.
Community, like all human undertakings, is not immune to what can adversely motivate opinion: perhaps the seeking of status, stubbornness, a certain anxiety, the hidden insecurity of a personality not enough loved (among others). As we have seen, what is important is that the leader and enough of the community are wise in their own humanity and in the divine love-life. What follows this then is that wise leadership consult all the community before important decisions. Why?
The Rule tells us here that if leadership is wise it will not presume all wisdom. Wise leadership accepts its limitations and seeks the wisdom of others before deciding. It is not authoritarian; it is discerning and discreet, sensing when the Spirit is moving in discussion and decision. Discretion can also sense an opinion rising from an isolated mindset, one that may not have the common good in focus. Discretion also knows when to leave something undecided, and when to approach people by themselves.
What is of most importance is that the community leader explains the matter at hand well to all, giving a humble and honest account of their understanding and suggestions. This is a model for all to follow.
The younger among us often have little or no agenda, or at least are less under the influence of hidden motivations around individual survival. They can see and say things that someone caught in these things can miss or perhaps refuse to see and say. Younger, of course, is not simply an age thing. We can be ‘young at heart’. We can develop through life from the naive innocence of a child to the wise innocence of an elder. During times of counsel all can be touched and shaped by the wise among us – whoever they are.
At the heart of obedience is listening. When listening has been done well enough there naturally comes the time for decision and action. Here this is done in the context of a communal life. It is in this communal life that the uniqueness of each person can be found and expressed. While consensus in an important decision may or may not be found, what is of more importance is that the life of the community continue to grow in the welcoming and acceptance of all its members.
There will be times when we will be on the ‘wrong end’ of a communal decision. This is a time of discovery, a time to experience the reasons why we hold ideas tightly; a time to experience attachment.
Perhaps at these times, it may be good to recall our original decision for community – when we first decided to be a part of this human and spiritual enterprise before us. When we become a part of something bigger to which our hearts were drawn and given – a marriage, a family, an order, a parish, a congregation, a friendship – what we forgo can become a way to grow in love for others. We become more deeply a part of an ongoing event of (other-centred) love.
Community is both personal and communal. The personal without the communal becomes individualistic, the communal without the personal becomes communalistic. Community teaches us that it is possible for the personal and the communal to be in a harmony. The reality may be that, at any one time, one or the other may need to take the lead. What is important is that neither are lost to each other.
We have discovered that meditating as a community helps with the tempering of mind around ideas and opinions. There is a risk that identity invested in ideas can become ideology. Ideology, held rigidly, can go against the spirit of the Rule and the Gospels. Together, as we consistently practice giving attention to that deeper ‘place’ of wisdom within us, we discover ourselves letting go of ideas as identity. We have found ourselves accepting decisions that have the communal life as a focus, decisions that we may have had more difficulty with before our experience of meditating together.
…..we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light (Col 1:9b-12, NRSV).