March 3, July 3, November 2

If a monk, acting without an order from the abbot, presumes to associate in any way with the excommunicated, to converse with them or to send them a message, they should receive a like punishment of excommunication.

Ultimately, a life of loving others is not about the satisfaction of my own agenda or desires. Instead, often it is about the experience of being alone with the experience of desires unmet. In community, the everyday has in it many chances to experience what being alone with our desires is like. To simply sit with this experience, however unsettling it may be, is a gift. In community we support each other in being alone with ourselves.

The excommunication process can be two edged: not only is it a time for the excommunicated to experience what non-association is like, it may also be a time for other community members to experience what not associating with another member is like. Both can be a challenge. What might be the motivation for associating with someone excommunicated? Maybe it is too hard to live with our own discomfort around what we think it might be like for them? Maybe it is too hard to get past the belief that helping someone is always about alleviating their suffering, their struggle? Perhaps there is not enough faith in the process, or the decision made to excommunicate.

We do not need excommunication to know this tension. Sometimes, with friends and family, the better thing to do is to give the other space, to respect their temperament, their personality, and the way they live. A younger brother rushing into his older sister’s bedroom without knocking is not being respectful. Instead, it may be better for him to experience his motivation away from his sister and her room. Perhaps someone, acting from a self-serving motivation they cannot resist, begs a friend to do something that their friend would otherwise never do, in the process risking the friendship out of self-interest. A period of non-association may be the result.

Being in community involves growing in relational discernment and wisdom. This can be an at times painful, sometimes uncomfortable process of dying to our own egoic desire. Sometimes holding the other at a distance is best, allowing a time of aloneness to have an effect; allowing space for grace to work within the person.

Hearts can soften during undistracted times. During a time without friends, or a time outside taken-for-granted routine, or without social media and television, the heart can relax, uncovering a new insight, a way forward, a mistake made. Meditation is like this; a fruit of attending to the mantra can be the loosening of attitude, people and things held too tightly, and the emergence of kindness long forgotten. Settling into the moment, wherever it happens, can be a time when distraction falls away allowing intuition and healing to rise.

Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a wicked unbelieving heart, so as to turn away from the living God. Encourage one another very day, as long as this today lasts, so that none of you is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, for we have become partners of Christ only if we keep the grasp of our first confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:12-14, RNJB)