Tools for Waking the Inner Monk
Many years ago, as my wife Almut and I were having breakfast at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota, we saw at another table an acquaintance from a previous visit to the Abbey. We struck up a conversation about our shared experience there and our longing for the kind of life we felt there. Toward the end of the conversation, Almut said to him “I think there is an inner monk within you, waiting to be welcomed.” We all smiled at the image.
It is an image that has stayed with me. The next year we ended up visiting the oblation of that fellow traveler who had decided to become a Benedictine oblate himself (that is, to become a lay affiliate with a monastery). Almut often encourages me to “find my inner monk” when some difficulty is facing me. And it has become a kind of guide post as I feel my way forward. It calls me to a deeper integration of wisdom ways into my life and to reflection on what kind of a person I want to become.
The phrase “the inner monk” makes for a nice word picture of the goal of spiritual formation. But it is not a cartoon monk slumbering on your shoulder, waiting to be asked questions. It is more an image of a goal, an image of the kind of person I want to become. The image is easy to build and will always consist of my prejudices of the true goal. So my progress toward it will always be skewed, and will always need revision.
So here we come to the hard part. Reaching the inner monk requires a process of becoming. It is a process of continual revision, of loving self-correction, and of honest self-compassion. Its basic building blocks are the cultivation of knowledge, (e.g. of particular practices), of attitude (e.g. of longing, of proper detachment), and of skills (e.g. listening, self-critique) that together help to form one’s way of being in the world.
Let’s start, as in the story at the Abbey, with the attitude. Specifically the attitude of longing. We desire inner peace, calm, joy, and the presence of God. Most of us have some of this longing for a sense of awe, comfort, belonging, or peace. But the longing alone will not get us there. We must have some knowledge of the way and then actually practice walking it.
Knowledge of the way can be found in the long history of Christian monasticism. In fact, monasteries have always been places of intellectual inquiry and spiritual practice. Experienced practitioners have long written helpful advice for the weary pilgrim. It contains encouragement, much wisdom about human experience, failings, and possibilities. And also consolation when one falls and needs to get up and try again.
And then one must practice walking the way. Again, monastic history provides us with a wealth of specific practices one can adopt that help to train, to support, and to guide us and we try to practice the presence of God. These individual practices or approaches to personal spirituality are not simple tricks, but instead are the tools we use to constantly shape our real embodiment of the eternal, of the deeper self, and of our care for others. They vary widely from the 30 days long structured Jesuit Exercises to the simple practice of the presence of God while washing dishes. They employ silence, imagination, pictures, music, walking, standing, sitting, words, emptiness, and much more (and also much less…).
But simply reading about the practices, or studying the knowledge, will not get us there. We must walk the way. Inexperienced as we are, we must begin where we are, using the practices, internalizing the knowledge, adopting the attitudes as best we can see them. Then, of course, try again when it does not work. And continue even when it seems difficult and dry. All athletes know that practice is best done with a coach. The same is true with spiritual practice. Find a spiritual director you can trust and work faithfully with them. They can guide you, notice things you do not, and help pick you up when you fall.
So, begin where you are. Awaken your inner monk with the desire for God, with the love of learning, and with the use of spiritual practices. Then practice constantly, and seek to become whole in your embodiment of God, of your inner monk, and of love for others.
Join us for our first English Speaking Klostertag at the Stadtkloster, June 3, 10 am – 4 pm
On Saturday June 3, Stadtkloster Segen will be offering some very practical suggestions for how you can integrate monastic practices into your life that structure small places for reflection. The English language Klostertag is titled „Awaken Your Inner Monk. An introduction to monastic living for our times.“ You will be introduced to and experience forms of meditation and other monastic practices that can be done in short breaks and also integrated into the daily work of life.
Your leaders will be Almut Furchert, a philosopher of religion and psychologist, and Chuck Huff, a professor of Psychology of Religion. They are both long-time lay associates of Benedictine monasteries in the USA and are on sabbatical this year at Stadtkloster Segen. They have a lovely 4 year old, Hannah, who teaches them monastic patience and hospitality every day.
For more follow this link.