Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 222

This quote by Rumi surprised me:

To pray and fast,
to go on pilgrimages,
to give alms, and
to resist jealousy
are the gems
in our hearts.

I expected the spiritual path of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage—it is the thread in all religious traditions. But jealousy? Why is resisting jealousy of equal value? What did Rumi know about resisting jealousy that he would choose it over courage or peace or perseverance or any virtue as essential to the spiritual path? To succumb to jealousy must erode the soul in some essential way. I suppose that if you are still jealous, you are not at home with yourself. And, really, isn’t the purpose of all that prayer and fasting and almsgiving to recognize that “the reign of God is within you?” You. Not someone better at playing the piano, or prettier, or smarter, or more popular. You. As Belden Lane has written, “Coming to rest at the core of our being is the hardest task in the spiritual life.”

I read somewhere that a popular self-improvement guru recommends taking a few minutes first thing in the morning to write down one thing you are looking forward to that day. I tried it. Last Monday I wrote: soaking my feet in Epson salts and warm water. Then I couldn’t think of another thing for the rest of the week. It didn’t make me feel bad, that I was ungrateful or incapable of a joyous moment. It just felt like I was forcing it, trying to fabricate something out of the ordinary. I understand how anticipation, how looking forward to something is a powerful motivator. But I just couldn’t get into it. Old Monk is very grateful to get up each morning and looks forward to some face of God that fills her with exquisite delight. Be it a Lake Erie ice storm, a thin slice of pizza with cheese and mushrooms, a poem she’s never read before, a raucous laugh while watching a Golden Girls rerun, a smile exchanged with a stranger. But she prefers it be a surprise.

Today I had a conversation with the poet, Raymond Carver.


Woke up this morning with

a terrific urge to lie in bed all day

and read. Fought against it for a minute.

Then looked out the window at the rain.

And gave over. Put myself entirely 

in the keep of this rainy morning.

Would I live my life over again?

Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?

Yes, given half a chance. Yes.
--Raymond Carver

Why do I love this poem so and yet have never in my entire 78 years here on earth torn up my “list of things to do today” and stayed in bed or lounged around all day reading or daydreaming? Too much of a responsible soul? Too certain the world rests on Old Monk’s shoulders? Too guilt-driven? Too full of self-importance?

It’s not that I don’t play. It’s just that I have this unending list of tasks and projects thundering through my head that drive my days. So here’s to you Raymond Carver:

Woke up this morning
With a terrific urge
To write my retirement letter. Got out a stamp.

Then I remembered my
Daily list of things to do. How I had to add one more chore.
Fought the urge to tear it up and lost.

If Old Monk had to do it over again
she would write a dictionary
with only two words: daydream… imagine.

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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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