Tonight, we will be looking at Chapters 10 and 11 in Charles Cummings’ book, “Monastic Practices.”
Chapter 10 is on “Community and Communication”. This is an interesting companion subject to the topic of “Silence” we discussed a few months ago. The monastery is a microcosm of the world–we are all stuck here with each other, and it is important to learn to get along. We can make our shared experience of each other a blessed celebration or a cursed’ hell, depending on our attitude and choice of behavior.
We also need to consider appropriate communication at necessary times. Socrates gave three suggestions to guide us in this vein: 1.) “Is it true?” — If not, let it go! 2.) “Is it kind?” — If we have an obligation to speak up and say something, how can we do it gently and tactfully, preserving compassion and respect for the other person? (Remember the old saying: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”) 3.) “Is it necessary?” Some things aren’t necessarily a problem if we talk about them, but, at the same time, they aren’t really all that beneficial, either. Like dumb jokes, small talk, drawing attention to ourselves with clever remarks,–they are a kind of idle chatter that keeps us from developing that habit of inner silence and peace that fosters spiritual attentiveness. (I once had a sociology prof who offered us this piece of advice: “You don’t have to speak everything that pops into your head–you won’t burst!”)
Chapter 11 is on the “Monastic Cell.” There are times when everyone needs to head to a favorite quiet place for a little mental R&R–whether that is “the cabin up North”, “the cozy little cottage”, “the ol’ fishin’ hole”, or the “man cave” –someplace we find a bit of peace, recharge our interior batteries, do a little reflecting on life. Early monks headed out to the desert or a wilderness cave. Nowadays, that isn’t always an available or, necessarily, preferable option. But there are places, within the monastery and without, where one can retreat to find solitude and spiritual nourishment. These can be the traditional “cell”, or a place that offers a bit of privacy and quiet to function like a little oratory–a place to rest and enter into dialogue with God. This is a necessary quality of the spiritual life–as well as finding the time to set aside for it. We also have to learn when it is time to leave the cell and take up our day-to-day responsibilities again. (I’ve had a few agoraphobics among my clients over the years, and it was a real challenge for them to learn to overcome the fear that would keep them hiding in their homes or even their room, and missing out on living the full life they were meant to have.)
Please read over these chapters for tonight and bring your thoughts, reactions, questions, experiences, etc. to share with us in the group.
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