Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 206

I’m reading today’s Gospel that opens “Jesus move about within Galilee; he did not wish to travel to Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him.” (Jn 7:1-2. 10. 25-30). And I’m reminded that what bothers me about Lent is praying a theology that I don’t believe in. It has to do with why Jesus died.

I don’t believe that Jesus was sacrificed to atone for our sins. I don’t think that a good part of the theological world believes it either, but it hasn’t made its way to the parish church pews yet. Atonement still permeates the prayers, hymns and homilies of Lent, especially Holy Week. I love the melodies of What Wondrous Love and Sacred Head Surrounded and Adoremus Te Domine but not the lyrics. I love praying Tenebrae at the monastery but choke on some of the antiphons and responsorials.

I remember when the church visionary Phyllis Tickle spoke at our monastery about five years ago, she mentioned three issues that the next generation of Christians must deal with. One of them was atonement theology. Atonement theology: Jesus died on the cross for our sins, thereby fuIfilling the old covenant sacrificial system, and reconciling us to God.

I wish that what we celebrated and made clear in the coming week is the example and power of Jesus’ redemptive love. Jesus died an awful death because he loved the poor, loved justice, loved truth. He died because he questioned church and state authority, spoke his truth and stood there. He did it because he loves us like God loves us and wants healing and wholeness and dignity for all creation. And to love that way –the way God loves us--usually entails great suffering, even to the point of death sometimes. That’s redemptive love. And if we follow Jesus, we do the same. And it’s going to result in a cycle of Good Fridays followed by new life as we get a glimpse of the reign of God on earth as in heaven.

A friend sent me an email announcing a four-day online conference on community. Specifically, how to build a world “with more connection, meaning, and belonging—together.” This “community renaissance” movement is spearheaded by millennials who are searching for ways to belong in what they describe as “our age of increasing loneliness and disconnection.” Easy to understand. No neighborhoods. No extended families. No viable church experiences. Only me and my smart phone…and you somewhere out there whoever you are.

They’ve been working hard on this issue for four years—meeting with all types of intentional and traditional communities-- and recently released a report on their findings that highlights “organizations that are effectively unbundling and remixing the functions historically performed by traditional religious institutions.”

I consider myself part of this new way of doing community wave. That’s what Monasteries of the Heart is all about. And yet, I wonder…. As I wrote back to my friend, “when I hear the word community I think of this day in and day out thing where you can’t escape the mirror because everyone is shoving it in your face. Until eventually you see your face clearly. And you begin to like that face.”

I read a beautiful poem today by Toi Derricotte titled, “Cherry Blossoms.” The poem ends:

All around us
the blossoms
flurry down

Be patient
you have an ancient beauty.

Be patient,
you have an ancient beauty.

When I was reading it, a memory that’s almost 50 years old washed over me. I was on a bus going to an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Washington, D.C. probably May Day, 1971. We had been traveling overnight, the bus windows were open, and I woke up to the rising sun and this intoxicating perfume-like aroma. I thought I had died and entered paradise. But I had only entered the capital during cherry blossom time.

I’m just not much of a sensate. This morning, for instance, I was talking to a friend about a woman we both ran into who told us she had cancer. “She looks good though the wig must be hard,” my friend said. “Wig?” I said. “What wig?” It’s so rare, then, for one of my senses to go on high alert that I usually remember it forever. It becomes a peak or mystical moment for me—I am kind of overpowered. So it is with that first fragrance of cherry blossoms fifty years ago. Such an ancient beauty.

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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