Saturday, November 18, 2006

Transparency and Enclosure

One monastic aspiration is transparency – behaving the same everywhere, alone or with others, not hiding “shameful” parts or preferentially displaying “good” parts. As one old desert Abba, Poemen, said, “Teach your mouth to say that which you have in your heart.”

A strict divide between lay people and “professional religious” grew up in Christianity after it became a state religion in the 300s. Christians weren’t to kill. How could Constantine, the first Christian ruler, control his empire without soldiers? Yet all his soldiers were required to be Christians. A solution was to let most folks follow a lax version of Christian practices while professional religious kept all the precepts for everyone.

One side effect is that lay people are shut out of the messy, human reality of monastic life. The sisters I knew donned "monastic habits" in public, acting out ideals of serenity, kindness and welcome. Yet they were like anyone off the street in private, often uncritically indulging destructive behaviors. This need to act like monks to guests damaged the sisters and deluded guests, at least those desperate to find holy people to follow. Other guests became cynical on glimpsing the underlying clay of the sisters’ feet.

Such an “invisible cloister” exists within communities as well. As a novice, I rarely had emotionally honest exchanges with the fully professed sisters. I don’t know if they had honest emotional relationships with each other. Like anyone, they were often jealous, impatient, frightened and angry - but I only saw them flame certain targets, e.g. “evil others,” such as Bush and his cohorts, or those of less status, such as novices.

Most of us don a public face outside the privacy of our homes. The monastic desire for transparency seems easily lost in the all-too-human desire to look good to “outsiders.” Could we stand to let guests into the whole thing – to display the farts and short tempers alongside the generous hearts and soothing voices? This would be healthier for all concerned. Would we still need private spaces for members to relax and “be themselves” or could we live with guests everywhere in our home at all times? How would that feel?

Enclosure also separates monks from the distractions of society. Is a physical or emotional barrier necessary for that? Does separation from people less focused on practice have other benefits (or harms)?

How can a community support each other in displaying their whole selves, flaws and all?

copyright R. Elena Tabachnick, November 2006

Monastery Guests

In monastic community does there have to be a strict divide between “members” and “guests?” What would be the advantages and difficulties of more permeable membership – if people came and went, moved from core to peripheral or vice versa? What about partnerships? Could a community hold through the tensions of forming or dissolving pairs?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Psalm 42: Deep Calls to Deep

My soul thirsts for God, the living God... Why do you despair, my soul?... Deep calls to deep / In the roar of your waters.

In biblical cosmology, the land is a crust floating on the waters of earth and the sky is a membrane holding back the waters of heaven. During lectio on psalm 42, I heard "the deeps of earth call to the deeps of heaven." Or the core substance and being of earth resonates in oneness with the core substance and being of heaven. A call and response chant plays continually between the divine embodied in earthy existence and the divine beyond earthly existence.

At a time when the grind of life-in-body smudges my windows and I can't sense the presence of God all around and within me, I am given to despair... Until I stop rushing about and breathe the breath/spirit/wind, the "
ruah." Flowing Presence enlivened the stuff of earth "In the beginning." That same Presence enlivens still every bit and being of material existence, flowing in and out and around every seemingly separate, earthly body. Ruah is my core and the larger substance through which I move. Stop. Breathe, smell, taste and see God in each and every tiny being: despair can't hold in the face of such powerful reality.

This lectio was the basis for the original psalm 4: Remember God, posted October 30.
copyright R. Elena Tabachnick, November 2006

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New Psalms 3: Feeding The Lion

Written in contrition after derailing a group conversation with an angry explosion.

Pride has consumed me.
A great lion tosses his royal mane.
I open my mouth
All that comes out is a roar.

Shy people cower.
Kind people shake their heads.
Other proud lions intensify the brawl.
Agreeing, we stand side by side.
Our declaration blasts the rafters
Scatters paper and dialogue to the floor.

Disagreeing, we stand face to face.
Blasting each other.
Hair streams out from our heads.
Veins pop in crimson faces.
Heat in shock waves fills the room.

We finish satisfied
But empty.

Others leave frustrated
And empty.

You wait

You do not hear these lions.
You do not see these lions.
When my longing turns to You
I stop feeding the lion.
He sleeps and You speak:
Welcome home.

© 2006 R. Elena Tabachnick