Some Reflections on Monastic Peace - 2012
The motto of the Benedictine tradition is PAX, Peace, and that among other things is what St Benedict promises to those who obey the spirit of the rule and who are gradually converted from being worldly men and women into true monks and nuns.
I always feel fortunate that as a child I was immersed in a culture profoundly shaped by the Book of Common Prayer and of course one of the most memorable and frequently
used pieces in that book, and also in our own Liberal Catholic Liturgy, is the blessing given at the end of the Holy Eucharist: "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be amongst you, and remain with you always." Amen.
The peace of God is indeed beyond understanding for along with “love, joy, patience, faithfulness, goodness, humility and self-control” it is one of the fruits of that mysterious indwelling Holy Spirit who is Himself a gift and a mystery quite beyond human explanation. He can only be experienced by one who has opened his heart to receive the gift!
Our Catholic Orthodox tradition teaches us that the Holy Spirit is given to us at our baptism and confirmation and certainly the reception of these sacraments both outwardly and inwardly is an essential foundation for one who is later called to a deeper degree of union with the Divine in the monastic life. That union with God is expressed most fully in the sacrament of the Eucharist in which we pray that “our souls may be lifted into the immensity of thy love and that being filled with a high endeavour we may ever be mindful of thine indwelling presence and breathe froth the fragrance of a holy life”. The fruit of this holy union is love, joy, peace and all the other fruit of the Spirit, but this fruit will not grow with out diligent labour. Peace comes at a price and requires that “high endeavour” without which holiness and wholeness are impossible.
Each of the fruits of the spirit require the practice of the others in order to thrive, thus if we seek peace we must endeavour also to practice love, joy, patience, humility and all the other virtues with as much application as we can muster. This is what our dear founder Bishop Wedgwood meant by the words “a high endevour …breath(ing) forth the fragrance of a holy life”.
St Benedict stresses the need for humility, in particular, if we are to make any progress in seeking God and attaining that peace which is beyond understanding and this in turn reminds me of that well known Shaker song “Simple Gifts”.
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right
Humility is no more than honesty with ourselves, to“come down where we ought to be”, close to the earth, human. God in Christ became man “in great humility” and so we too must find our peaceful centre where God dwells by coming down and getting close to the earth, embracing our humanity, warts and all, and acknowledging our need of God's power to effect positive change in our lives. But as Elder Joseph Brackett, the composer of the above song reminds us; bowing, bending, turning and coming down to where we ought to be will actually be a delight, for to be released from the constant demands of an insecure ego is the supreme freedom and empowerment.
Perhaps for this reason, in our Liberal Catholic Liturgy the first blessing at the end of Mass is often followed by a second blessing which affirms that “There is a peace which passeth understanding. It abides in the hearts of those who live in the eternal. There is a power that makes all things new; it lives and moves in those who know the Self as one. May that peace flow through you, that power uplift you, till you stand before that great Initiator, and see his light shine forth.”
A peace that is passive and dis-empowering is no peace at all, but mere submission, and in the past this kind of subjugation was not unknown in some monasteries, however, the peace for which we strive as OSBA monks amd nuns is the peace gained by realisation of our divine potential, in all humility. It is an empowering peace, the peace of one who has let go of the ego and is filled instead with the Holy Spirit. This great work is of course not completed in a day but that is not our problem. All we need do
is “let go and let God” for our sanctification will come in God's good time. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of ONE: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Hebrews 2:11)
In becoming man and suffering with us, even to the point of the cross, God has “by that one single offering achieved the
eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying” (Hebrews 10:14). Herein lies our ultimate peace.
+Alistair of the Blessed Sacrament OSBA