Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reflections on our Rule

Sometimes I think it would be interesting to have some apparent distinguishing physical characteristic or set of practices connected to my spirituality: Eastern Orthodox fast days; Hasidic side-curls; a Sikh turban; Muslim prayers said toward Mecca. Of course, that's only a passing fantasy, but I wonder to myself what sort of formal commitment I have to anything besides trying to get my papers done on time. But then I remember that I do have such an opportunity for commitment in the living stones community rule. I admit I haven't been exactly fastidious in keeping it. I know, I know--no guilt. And of all the groups in the world, living stones seems to be the least likely to kick me out for not doing enough lectio. But this mental process got me thinking about our rule and my own relationship with it.

I read this story recently, which seems relevant: When William Penn became a Quaker, many of his fellow Friends wanted him to give up wearing the sword on his belt that was a distinguishing mark of his status as an aristocrat. Quakers are pacifists, they reasoned, and William couldn't carry the sword, even if he never used it. But Penn was upset that he would have to give up this marker of identity. He sought out George Fox, the leader of the Friends, to settle the issue. After some consideration, Fox told the young man, “Wear it as long as thee can.” Fox realized that the way to change someone wasn't by issuing commandments (“Take off your sword immediately”). Instead, the immersion into the Friends' shared community of silence and an increased awareness of God's presence would lead Penn to cast aside the things that stood in his way to divine union, not least his own false self as embodied in his sword. Likewise, I think committing to this rule, being part of this online community, is less about “getting it right” all the time and more about about commitment to a gradual process of spiritual transformation as we share in life together. I hope to be open to this type of direction from the Spirit, from this community, and from the rule to which we are committed.

--John

7 comments:

RC said...

John, your reflection really means a lot to me. I'm encouraged. I've said our community is a tentative, fragile, experiment. But it really means a lot to me. Its core practices and the way we have put the Spirit at the center and have shared in this together are striking to me. Together we have touched something and each other in a significant way. How to proceed and what to expect from each other and from God is still unclear to me. But I sense God is interested, too.
--RC

Captain Nemo said...

I'm reminded of a great short wisdom story of eight blind men traveling through the mountains. Their leader falls unexpectedly, and the other seven begin weeping that they will all die and be lost forever in the mountains. Suddenly, the voice of their leader calls up from just below, "Hullo, I've fallen, but it was not a great distance and I am just fine. If you want to live also, I suggest that you all fall immediately!"
The moral of the story is not living dangerously, rather I believe that the message, when applied to God, is lovely. we are all seeking to follow along the pilgrims way, but it is when we throw ourselves into the mystery of God's Presence, we will always be safer than when we were gingerly walking along the edge.
The word "Rule" when used by Benedict was the Greek word "trellis". Likely you all will recognize this as a structure on which a plant can grow. This is how a rule of life works--we grow upon it, it is not applied to our lives. In the end, we all are changed wholly. So, "badges? We don't need no stinking badges..." we are already marked as Christ's own.

living stones said...

John, This post meant a lot to me. It is at this point in the semester when I have to give final grades. I sense a lot of regret and guilt in some of my students. “How can I earn extra credit?” they ask anxiously. (“I know, I know--no guilt,” your wrote, and I smiled.) Even today I told them I wished I didn’t have to give grades, and I could just send them on to their next teacher and expect them to grow more. It doesn’t work that way, of course, for struggling freshman. But I was personally encouraged when you wrote, “committing to this rule, being part of this online community, is less about “getting it right” all the time and more about commitment to a gradual process of spiritual transformation as we share in life together.” Amen and thank you--Anna

Paul Corrigan said...

John, I like your phrase "immersion into the shared community of silence and an increased awareness of God's presence." I too sometimes think about having some "distinguishing physical characteristic or set of practices." In particular I think I would like a monk robe. (Don't you have one?) And I haven't ruled out the possibility of starting to use prayer beads. But like you, I take our community seriously. I'm not implying that anyone else doesn't; but I mean that our community has an important part in my sense of self right now. One could say that eventually, I should not need particulars (this community, a title, a job, a set of practices) to establish/define my identity. And I agree with this: my "real" identity is in the "empty center"; who I am (my timeless essence) is in God and God in me, an apophatic interrelation. But on the other hand, we are called to incarnate--we cannot live unincarnationally right now--and so some stable but non-ultimate markers of "identity" are valuable. These make up who I _am being_, who I am living as in time. This community, our rule, a set of prayer practices, and so forth. So your reflections on our rule are meaningful to me. As Dr. Cotton has said, this "community is a tentative, fragile, experiment." If/when it ends, we can find new ways of being and practicing and constructing our sense of selves (for surely the community doesn't constitute our whole practice or sense of self anyway), but as of now I would be willing, if God wills and the community grows to that degree of stability, to be in this together for the long haul. --Paul

Daniel said...

John, I really appreciate the way you've gathered your thoughts for this entry. They resound in my spirit, reminding me how meaningful our community is, not only in friendships or blog entries, but primarily in our mutual desire for communion with God. And though I understand it to be tentative, I'm humbled and encouraged by the thought of our gradual growth and investment in such a community.

Sarah said...

As I read your post and everyone's comments, it seemed that you spoke the thought of all of our hearts, John. I think that desire for "a distinguishing physical characteristic or set of practices" is why I'm here--why I set aside the time to be in this community and to live in this way. It's why I wear ashes on Ash Wednesday and feel an intense longing when we light the advent wreath. It's why I bought a prayer book and joined a centering prayer group. Of course, as Paul mentioned, this stuff can be just that--stuff--if it doesn't proceed from and lead to the silence at our center, our relationship to God. Yet as I've often found, that silence is richer in community. And that's what we have here.

RC said...

Dear Spiritual Friends, thank you for your comments above in response to this post by John. Your response were outstanding, and this kind of activity/interaction on the blog is very encouraging and strengthening to me. It's another indication, I think, that God is working in and through our community.
--RC

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