In the reading from Ephesians we heard “For you were dead through the trespasses and sin which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient”
In John’s gospel we heard “Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.
Richard Rohr writes :Authentic spirituality is always about changing yourself. It is not about trying to change anyone else I feel that these passages support the Benedictine vow of conversatio morum which is to always be open to transformation and change. The purpose and goal of this vow is to live a life fully in Christ.
The opening line in the chapter on Change in Seeking God the Benedictine Way states….‘Life seen as a journey, an ascent, a pilgrimage, a road is an idea as old as man himself.’ and continues with “But we cannot think of life as a journey without accepting that it must involve change and growth… always moving on, conversatio morum is an open and free response to the challenges with which God will face us” I should say at this point that I do not hold to the thought that God creates challenges in our lives. I believe we create them ourselves but how we respond to them is what God faces us with. There was a time in my life when I dreamed of creating a hermitage in the woods at the back of our property and thought of isolating myself away from life. The busy-ness of my world was getting a hold on me and I just felt like I wanted to run away from it all. One of the things that I reflected on at that time was about what my world would look like as I contemplated God, prayed, read scripture and worked with the earth to provide food for myself to eat. It came to me at that time that no matter how enticing the idea of drawing away from society was I was not the sort of person who could live the life of a solitaire. I valued communal life too much and experiencing God and the love of God among people and yes even in the midst of the struggle of people.
There are 3 vows within the Order of St. Benedict
iii) conversatio morum, always moving on
In Seeking God, Esther writes about the vow of Stability and states “Stability means that I must not run away from where my battles are being fought, that I have to stand still where the real issues have to be faced” And about conversatio morum she writes “I must be ready to pick myself up and start all over again in a pattern of growth constantly in life and all the time the journey is based on the gospel paradox of losing life and finding it”
I also reflected at that time why I was feeling this strong pull to experience a solitaire life. Often in my life, when this sort of thought comes up it is the precursor to a change. I try to wait and I try to listen as I reflect and I try to keep alert to anything that might happen to offer me a new path to walk. I was clearly frustrated in my work life but could not put my finger on what was causing this frustration, I was feeling inadequate as a deacon in the church but could not put my finger on what was causing this feeling of inadequacy. This was my unknowingly following the vow of the Order of SB “standing still where the real issues had to be faced.”
I began to realize that the problem was not work or being a deacon, the problem was that I was feeling as if I had lost my connectedness to God. But then maybe the real problem was that I was too busy to feel my connectedness with God. Once again in reading “Seeking God” I see a parallel with Richard Rohr and his concept of the EGO taking control Richard has written that EGO, E-G-O is EDGING GOD OUT,Likewise the Rule of Benedict looks at psychological maturity and states ‘You must not be proud’ Esther continues“pride is the desire to take control; of my day, my future, the other people in my life, to make sure that the world is put together the way I want it. That is to deny the control of God, perhaps even to take it back from God.”At this time of my life the doors to a Contemplative Prayer group opened to me and I began a wonderful journey in contemplative prayer. I continued with this group for a few years until I faced another challenge in my life that drew me away. I found myself unable to sit in contemplation and reflection and how I was to live a life in the love of God. This was probably the time when I should have remained in this group but, I just couldn’t stay as I dealt with my anger at God and even the teachings of the church. It was comforting for me to read these personal words of Esther in Seeking God “My difficulty is that on the whole I am not very good at change, I cling to the safe and the known. Caught up in the miseries and the confusions of what I am loosing, I find I am unwilling to believe that new life is anything more than a distant promise. I must try to turn this newly found space in my life to good account and not simply fill it with busy-ness to cover up the void….. then I realize that the past has brought me to this moment and if I begin today anew I can also begin tomorrow anew and the day after that and so I shall be truly open to change”
I know now that at that time, I was so caught up in what Esther writes about.((I had so many challenges to work through about my understanding of God’s love and grace, about my understanding of sin and how it seems that sin too often wins in this world and questioning where is God for me at the times when I am so blatantly confronted by sin. I had to work through what the church taught about sin and soon that single word became meaningless to me I didn’t want to hear anymore about how God forgives the sinner. I had a long journey ahead of me. Those moments of despair and anger at God sometimes still hit me, but they at least don’t last as long as they once did.Now, I have come to understand sin more as brokenness in me and others. In my private Lord’s prayer I now use the word ‘brokenness’ to replace sin, which has become a meaningless word for me. I say “forgive us our brokenness as we forgive those who try to break us” I don’t believe that I have yet come fully into the light; that I have fully shaken off my brokenness for which I pray God to forgive me. I don’t believe that I have fully come into the light, as stated in John’s gospel, as I have yet to totally forgive those who have tried to break us.))) I have a feeling that there still will be times in my life when I want to escape into a hermitage and hide from the busy-ness of my world. I have a feeling that I still may rant at God, maybe a little less dramatically than before. I have a feeling, that as Esther, I may yet want to hang on to my miseries and confusions when change is forced upon me. My hope though is that when I am faced with change I will have a little more wisdom than before and I pray that my ‘pity party’ may be less robust than before and I trust that may be so as long as I take time to reflect and reexamine what is happening in my life.
As long as I am able to remember that in those moments when I will feel out of sorts with God that ….as Esther writes ‘It is important that we know how to read our own history, to see the turning points, the moments of change, the unfolding of Gods plan at each new step of the way ‘ and as long as I remember to quote Esther ‘That it is hard not to stand like Lot’s wife looking back into the past, even though we know that new patterns of life and work grow only through accepting change and recognizing the potential of what is given, not what is dreamt of. It is a sign of maturity to rejoice in what I have and not to weep for what I have lost or never had’
In the Rule of St. Benedict his last words are “and finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy’
‘it is as though St. B is telling us that we are to come, through this life process of being transformed in Christ, to spiritual, psychological and emotional maturity, but there will certainly be moments of failure and slipping back as we go. Then if I can say “Uphold me, O Lord” and if I am always ready to get up and start all over again because I know that God’s mercy is utterly reliable, then I can be sure that I am going in the right direction’ “Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.