Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(1) Introspective Interim

Looking back, a term comes to mind: a "wannabe monk." This
term implies a person who usually spends far too much time in
a monastery without taking the plunge. Perhaps in my own case
I wasn't able to do that because of the considerable distance
away from the monastery I attended. Consequently, I could only
visit there occasionally.

But to be fair to myself, I once visited a motherhouse of
Benedictine Sisters in another city. After meeting with the
prioress, she handed me off to a younger sister who gave me a
tour. In fact, in her mid-40s, she was the youngest professed in
the priory. We talked about the life there, and she told me
straight. Even back then monastic houses were growing
thinner in numbers and older in age. Not bitter, yet somewhat
saddened, she said it was hard to live fully the Benedictine life
as it once was, because of the need to be mostly a geriatric
nurse! She showed me what she meant.

We entered a huge room where some twenty aged sisters, fully
garbed in their old-fashioned cloister clothing, sitting separately
in armchairs replete with foot-stools, were watching a single big
television set. It was afternoon, so I could imagine the only
thing showing were the soap-operas. Anyway, the sight was
kind of shocking--yet, oddly funny. I felt bad, because it was all
I could do to keep from laughing at this strange sight.

But, really, it was no laughing matter. Seeing what I saw during
this visit was a prelude of what was to come in religious houses
all around the world. It wasn't where I wanted to be, and I have
never been sorry about *not* taking the plunge--choosing to live
behind the walls, so to speak. So I didn't haunt the monastery;
however, the monastery haunted me!

I tried to configure a Benedictine life outside the walls. But I
went at it far too compulsively. I literally wrote out a very rigid
"game plan," wherein nearly every minute of my day followed
the old medieval regimen of the Order. Well this effort was
doomed from the start. I bucked like a wild horse, mentally
flogging myself constantly because of my failure(s). It was near
a hopeless effort on my part. My situation, my disposition, my
professional responsibilities simply precluded living out my
game plan in any meaningful way. Constantly trying and falling
brought me to tears.

Normally a practical person, I couldn't grasp why I was doing
this to myself--trying to live a rigid, medieval-sort of life to which
I was not well disposed. Yet I felt myself drawn to the monastic.
And it was at this point that I began to have a long drawn-out
series of what the Native Americans call "Big Dreams."
Numinous, these kind of dreams demand attention. And even
then, a neophyte when it comes to dreamwork, I realized the
strong archetypal monastic rooted deep in my soul.

I needed help and at least had the good sense to seek out a
spiritual director. Going to the monastery, I was assigned to a
wonderful monk. In this, God gave me a gift. Meeting about
once-a-month, I began a new adventure with my good, gentle
abbot. A British gentleman, he was a cheerful wise soul who
possessed that greatest of all Benedictine capacities: the ability
"to listen."

Upon our first meet I remember mumbling, nearly unable to
convey my concerns, because I couldn't figure such myself. At
the end of the hour my abbot exclaimed, "well you are a loner!"
And with this he seemed exceedingly delighted. Driving home,
I was confused. For the first time I realized that I was a solitary
trying to live a Benedictine life. I couldn't connect all the seeming
disparity. Rather it appeared that I was a walking breathing