Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 226

All the sisters in the community were asked to bring “a memento, gift, quote, prayer, etc. that represents your own monastic life and explain its significance to the group.” This invitation was in preparation for a recent Lenten faith sharing at the monastery. Those of us who live in the city and were following the “stay at home” injunction during the pandemic, joined from a distance.

I brought a quote (surprise!) to represent what I think it’s all about. The quote is by the Cistercian monk Andre Louf:

What is a monk?
A monk is someone who every day asks:
“What is a monk?”

I think this insight is the essence of the monastic life, a daily lectio and call to “coversatio,” to conversion. If you think you’ve got the answer to the question, “What is a monk,” you are not a monk. I like to play with the question and write my answer for the day. The one I brought to the Lent gathering was:

What is a monk?
A monk
is someone who in a time of pandemic
continues to sweep the floor

Now Mary, the Benedictine Sister I live with, announced that she brought herself and a small dish she threw at a pottery retreat decades ago that was filled with ashes from our Ash Wednesday service. “Here I am in body and dust. What I am now, at this moment, best represents—for better or worse---how I am living what I’ve chosen to live unto death, the monastic life.” She always gets to the heart of things.

I’ve never liked the idea of moderation even though I learned as a novice that it is the hallmark of the Rule of Benedict. It’s one of the things that always made me ask myself: is your life choice a mistake? Moderation always reminds me of the passage from Revelations where God says, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” When I read the live of the saints, I choke on the idea of moderation.
When I reflect on the Scriptures, I confess before God and the community to the sin of moderation. The Holy Book is filled with extremes. Risking your life like Esther to resist tyranny so others know freedom. Getting so angry at injustice that you overturn tables in the marketplace and lash your whip at a brood of vipers. Pouring a vial of the most expensive perfume on a weary traveler’s feet. Giving away all you have to the poor...everything. Smashing swords and missiles into pruning hooks. Turning six, thirty-gallon stone jars filled with water into wine. And my all-time favorite--dancing and leaping in the streets with a naked King David before the ark of the covenant. Extremes, all of them.

Then I came upon this quote from Rumi:

Choosing the middle path
is always a wise course,
but knowing the position of the “middle”
is a matter of perspective.
Water rushing in a stream
may only wrap around the camel’s knee,
but the mouse sees the same stream
as an unfathomable abyss.

It’s perspective, then, when it comes to moderation. And what I think are sins of tepidity are my sins only, and no one else’s.

I mindfully squash an ant
scurrying across
my laptop-desk
then return to writing
sacred poems.

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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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