Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Unexciting Life: Monasticism for a non-monastic

The Pirate has gone to the States for more than a month to help our son remodel his house (the one the Pirate built in 1969 when we were hippies). That leaves me alone with the garden and the dogs, and an opportunity to practice more fully the monastic life that has always lurked in the back of my heart.

Before the Pirate left I revised my Rule of Life (email me if you want to know what a Rule of Life is or how to make one, and I'll send you a PDf from the CS Lewis Institute on it). I wanted to make sure that I had set times for doing all kinds of different tasks each day, including maintaining the vegetable garden (which is the Pirate's domain) and focusing on all the things to be made for the vacation rental house before we can start renting it. Things like bedspreads, curtains, dish towels, etc. Without having fully scheduled days I knew I was likely to space out, since the Pirate is the core around which I do everything (imagine a May pole - the Pirate - with me weaving whatever I do each day around that core).

One thing that I committed myself to doing during this period is to write a post every Sunday on the book An Unexciting Life, because I have MANY more highlighted segments to go before I allow myself to finish reading this book...and I just bought another of Michael Casey's books, Seventy-Four Tools for Good Living which I won't allow myself to read until I've completed the current book.

So, from the chapter "The Benedictine Promises", in the section "The Promise to be a Good Monk", is a single sentence that is elegant and simple in its description of the life devoted to God:
"Each day one allows oneself to be converted a little more, by attending to the Word and allowing it to shape one's options".

I spent my professional career helping people to identify their options and learn how to be wise (or at least prudent) in deciding which ones to pay attention to. Some of my clients were christians; many were not. But God had put me in a position to impart good sense and recognition of virtue to people who live in a society that has lost its ability to recognize or practice either one. For that I am deeply grateful. But how do I put this concept into practice? What do I do to allow God's light into the dark recesses of my soul, that they might be converted?

In general, it's best to approach a significant issue by figuratively walking all the way around it. There is the first, most obvious, perception to keep in mind, but wisdom requires that the more difficult or uncomfortable possibilities be considered as well. For instance, the other day the Pirate made a remark about how much time I've been spending playing solitaire. I seem to go through seasons of doing this - over the years I've had periods where I waste a huge amount of my days playing solitaire, and then I'll completely ignore it for long periods. This time, in response to that remark, my first thought was "So what? I spend more time praying every day than most people, so this is my acceptable mindless relaxation".

On further thought it seemed to me that what I'm doing when I play solitaire is in a certain way "girding up my loins" to do something that is daunting, but that I know that God is wanting me to do. I thought, "I'm basically doing what Peter describes in his first letter: 'Therefore gird up the loins of your mind; be sober...' I'm psyching myself to face the daunting task". That's okay, I guess, and true enough, but then I read the second half of that passage: "and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'".

Now the issue is clearly not one of sin, but of increasing holiness. How much do I want to increase in holiness? Enough to change the little, non-sinful things in my life when God's light shows them for what they really are? What my solitaire playing really is, as I have come to realize, is a substitute for coming before God and admitting my inability, my weakness, my lack of confidence to do whatever it is that He is calling me to do at that moment. I am girding up my loins, NOT by resting my hope fully upon His grace, but by zoning out until my conscience can't stand the dithering any more and forces me to act.

I thank God that He is faithful to answer my prayer that I could see myself as I really am - not as I hope or fear that I am - and that He has the power to change me, if I offer myself to Him to do so. As St. Therese of Lisieux described it, God has an "elevator" that will lift us up to holiness quickly, and that is offering ourselves to Him in love and confidence, as little children. As they say here in Mexico, asi sea, let it be so.

If you want to read my past posts on An Unexciting Life, click on "an unexciting life" in the list of topics on the right side of this page.

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