January 9, 2017

Seeking God through Community


            We have just completed a wonderful week at Conception Abbey, full of learning, prayer, and table fellowship.  Time shifts when there; bells and times of prayer order the rhythms, and we tend to look at our watches or smart phones a little less frequently.  We do not hurry at meals, but we linger in the company of collegial friends and open our lives to one another.  It is a renewing time.

            One of the key insights of the Rule of St Benedict is that the Christian life is best formed in community.  The heroic solitary endeavor usually founders, and we learn from this spiritual master that we cannot be faithful alone.  Listening to our common challenges and paying attention to the back stories of those who seek to represent Christ as ministers is a means of encouragement to those who do not want to grow weary in well doing.  Understandably, many came to the week weary after guiding their congregations through the Advent and Christmas season.
            It is bracing to read the Psalter throughout the liturgy of the hours.  You may recall that this monastic community works its way through all 150 Psalms every two weeks.   (Some in the more conservative tradition of Benedictine life think this is rather lax!)  At 6 am you may hear of what God did to those who rebelled in the wilderness (Psalm 78) or what is in store for the children of the enemies of God (Psalm 137) or the despair of those expelled from Jerusalem to Babylon (Psalms 74 and 79).  What a way to start a day!

            There is frank realism in the Psalter, and praying these words awakens us to perceive how deeply the world is always embroiled in violence.  We need to relinquish the sword and trust God with the outcomes of history.  Somehow saying the vitriol against enemies out loud offers it up to God.  If it cannot be said out loud, it probably cannot be redeemed, Brueggemann instructs.  It is much better to curse the enemy than to raise your hand against that one, the Psalter teaches.

            We learn a great deal about healthy community through observing the lives of the monks.  They are generous in sharing of their spiritual pilgrimage in monastic life.  Abbot Benedict, only six weeks into his new role, shared significant insights about humility and authority.  Humility is knowing the truth of who one is before God and others; authority is utilizing one’s position to help others focus their desire for God.

            Lessons learned there can be carried into our churches, our families, and our vocations.  Listening for the voice of God within each community will strengthen our walk to maturity in Christ, which is our true destiny.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares creative leaders for diverse ministry contexts.

January 2, 2017

Abbey Bound


            On Monday about 18 of us will converge at Conception Abbey in northwestern Missouri.  We will spend a week immersed in Benedictine spirituality as we learn the rhythms of prayer and community at this monastery.  It is the season of light: Christmastide moves inexorably toward Epiphany, and we will engage the great texts telling the story of the young Jesus.  Besides, the beautiful decorations are still up!

            There will be fewer credit students and more life-long learners this year, which will allow a measured pace of the liturgy of the hours, classroom discussion, and time to interact with monks and the new Abbot.  Among the class members are area pastors, Central board members, and other friends of the seminary.  The goal of the class is to explore sustaining spiritual practices that arise out of this venerable tradition, and garner new insight for what can be transposed to non-cloistered living.
            Although over 1500 years old, Benedictine spirituality is rife with perspective sorely needed in our time.  As Joan Chittister writes in The Rule of St. Benedict: Insights for the Ages, this spirituality deals with the issues facing us now: “stewardship, relationships, authority, community, balance, work, simplicity, prayer, and spiritual and psychological development.”  It is a call to maturing in Christ, and this trellis (the Rule) supports growth in humility, stability, and continuous conversion of life.

            Many credit the Benedictines with preserving culture, especially Scripture and other texts, during the Dark Ages, and their conservation of a way of life in community through the “bright weapons of obedience,” as the Rule puts it, remains constructive.  It challenges individualism, sloth, pride, careless speech, and measuring oneself by acquisition of goods.  Listening to it regularly promotes wisdom.
            Over the many years of experiencing this time with fellow learners, I have observed how life-changing this time can be.  The hospitality offered; the generous expenditure of time by the monks; and the regular marinating in the Psalter and other texts calls to the deep longing we all share.  This is pilgrimage spirituality; it is only finished in death, and one must keep this daily before one’s eyes.

            The relationship between Conception Abbey and Central is strong, yet rather unusual given our disparate ecclesial traditions.  We understand the sacraments of the Church quite differently, and surely our views on women as pastoral leaders diverge.  Yet, spiritual friendship and trust have grown as we honor the charisms of our respective expression of Christian faith.  This is a fruitful pathway for the whole people of God to follow.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders through seeking God, shaping church, and serving the world.