March 24, July 24, November 23
Anyone excommunicated for serious faults from the oratory and from the table is to prostrate themselves in silence at the oratory entrance at the end of the celebration of the Work of God. They should lie face down at the feet of all as they leave the oratory, and let them do this until the abbot judges they have made satisfaction. Next, at the bidding of the abbot, they are to prostrate themselves at the abbot’s feet, then at the feet of all that they may pray for them. Only then, if the abbot orders, should they be admitted to the choir in the rank the abbot assigns. Even so, they should not presume to lead a psalm or a reading or anything else in the oratory without further instructions from the abbot. In addition, at all the hours, as the Work of God is being completed, they must prostrate themselves in the place they occupy. They will continue this form of satisfaction until the abbot again bids them cease.
Those excommunicated for less serious faults from the table only are to make satisfaction in the oratory for as long as the abbot orders. They do so until the abbot give them blessing and says “Enough.”
If community becomes a place to hide from others and the work of loving, then it has ceased to be community. This tendency to hide is always in us. Sometimes hiding may be necessary, however it must not be defining. The rule has in its structure ways that make it difficult to avoid this work of growing in love. This work, of course, can be avoided, no matter what might be in place. As human beings, we have final say on how we are to act and what we are to learn. The rule does everything it can to encourage an ongoing decision for kindness and compassion, truth and divinity.
This chapter adds to the descriptions of excommunication found in Chapters 23 to 29. It does so by providing a practical and embodied way through which the excommunicated can show and practice remorse for what has been done. It also offers this way as a way in which community leadership can provide a way back into communal life, a way that is incremental.
The spiritual and psychological will often happen before the physical. We can physically be somewhere and yet our heart might not be there anymore. This missing heart may manifest in our daydreaming and dreaming; it can also reveal itself in our lack of motivation for essential and communal things.
Here the body is included in the process. We can forget that we discern with the body. Going for a walk, a hike, a bike ride, doing the housework – all this can help us to see more clearly, as can the more formal acts of going on pilgrimage or walking a labyrinth. Meditation itself, in its posture and stillness, is a form of physical journey aiding discernment. Whatever the way, it is important and valuable to include the body.
If a community is not asking for assurance in the ways outlined here by the rule, what else can be done? How can leadership and the questioner be satisfied that the heart is still present? Perhaps the above embodied actions can be a part of the process. One on one prayer and discussion can also be a part of this. What is also important is that any journey of remorse and discovery have a together-as-community element. Prostrating before all is the communal element of this chapter. Perhaps today, communal meetings provide something of this prostration. At a community meeting we can be in a ‘vulnerable position’ because of things done or not done; these meetings can be occasions for humility. Remorse can be learned, and satisfaction reached. Today then, attending regular community meetings is just as important as attending mealtimes and communal prayer.
All of this is done, of course, to facilitate going beyond ego. Why might this be important? Ultimately, a community of the rule is for the God seeker and this seeking must not be compromised or side-tracked. The God seeker journeys past self-consciousness and self-observation, past thought, conception, and image, even past seeking itself, to a nothing that is everything. This nothing is mystery, divinity, a full emptiness, and true love. In the rule, the practice of excommunication can be a way to engage this going beyond more deeply, a way included in the journey of community itself. Whatever we do today must be in the spirit of the rule that asks of us this going beyond, that the whole of us may come to serve the contemplative journey.
I urge you, then, brothers and sisters, remembering the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your due worship. Do be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewal of mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God – good, pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2, RNJB)