Monday, February 3, 2014

Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed!

Blessed indeed is the man 
who follows not the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stands in the path with sinners, 
nor abides in the company of scorners,
But whose delight is the law of the Lord, 
and who ponders his law day and night.
Psalm 1:1-2
Revised Grail Translation

What an odd beatitude!  Not “Blessed is the one who does thus-and-such” or “Blessed is the one who is thus-and-so.”  Not, for example, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness” or “Blessed are the merciful” (Matt 5:6-7)).  Rather, blessed is the one who does NOT do any of  the following:  follow the counsel of the wicked, stand in the path of sinners, abide in the company of scorners. 

Parents worry, as many of you well know, and as all of us discovered when we were kids.  Parents worry about where their kids hang out and with what companions.  Apparently, God worries about it too.  The point at issue in parents’ concern about the company kids keep and God’s concern about the company we keep comes down to the matter of listening.  The people we hang out with are the voices we hear most often.  The voices we hear shape us:  they shape what we think, what we value, what we aspire to, what we do.  For kids, those voices were once most likely to be the voices of their friends.  Parents might speak, teachers might speak, preachers might speak, but the voices that most often got through in the moment were the voices of the crowd the kid ran with.  The other voices might have had a longer impact, or at least so the speakers hoped, but the voices that defined “now” were the voices most often heard, and the voices most often heard were those of friends.  Nowadays, the voices most often heard might come from even more frightening sources as media of every kind feed into the ears of many kids through ever-present earphones.   

Kids grow up.  We did.  We grew into a world where we discovered a wider range of voices to listen to, and where, no doubt, we became a bit more choosy about which ones we chose to hear.  But we are still most affected by the voices we hear most often, as advertisers well know.  That is God’s concern, as expressed by the psalmist: With whom do you hang out?  What voices do you hear?  To which voices are you most likely to listen?

The psalmist apparently names three sets of undesirable voices:  those of the wicked, sinners, and scorners.  However, in the psalm-world, all three are essentially concrete descriptions of what Psalm 14:1 calls the fools who say in their hearts, “There is no God.”  A bit of cultural translation might help here.  The people of the psalms didn’t live in a world of rampant atheism of the kind that speaks to us from every side now.  They did live among two rather more subtle kinds of unbelievers.  The first, to whom Psalm 14 refers, were those members of the covenant people who had abandoned the covenant code of  comprehensive justice that governed all relationships.  Some of its laws sound alien to us now, but they were in fact intended to protect the poor, the helpless, the outsider, and, indeed, all God’s people from their own worst selves.  The godless of Psalm 14 and other psalms were those who no longer held themselves accountable before the God of their people for their behavior toward others.  It was a useful kind of atheism-in-practice for those whose lives were governed instead by self-interest.  The second kind of unbelievers were, of course, Israel’s neighbors and enemies who worshipped other gods who called for different values.  However, they were of less concern to the psalmist than the “godless” who lived next door or down the street and congregated in the marketplace where anyone might join them. 

Both kinds of unbelievers are with us still, though they wear different clothing now and hang out in other places.  We usually know them.  We often hear them in the media.  We might work with them or even, sometimes, live with them.  To us the psalmist says what our parents said:  be careful of the company you keep; watch out who you listen to.

However, the monastic tradition knows of a subtler crowd of unbelievers who pose a greater danger than the ones among whom we live our daily lives.  They inhabit the recesses of our own hearts.  Father Gabriel Bunge, in his excellent book Despondency (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Yonkers, NY, 2011) offers a bit of wisdom from the desert:  we all host collaborators--inner weaknesses, selfish inclinations, perhaps even bad habits we thought we had abandoned--who open the door from the inside to let the Tempter’s minions in.  Especially when we are tired, lonely, or disheartened, we may more or less unintentionally allow them in without much resistance.  Perhaps the most dangerous of them all are the ones who whisper, “Prayer?  Come on.  You can do that later.  Today you deserve a break.  Be good to yourself.” So, without clearly making the choice, we shut out the one Voice that matters in favor of the wicked, the sinners, the scorners of God’s word who clamor quite persuasively to be heard.  We make Eve’s choice, and Adam’s:  we listen to the wrong voice and obey a different word than God’s and go away the very opposite of “blessed.”

St. Benedict warns us.  “Listen!” he urges at the very outset of the Rule.  But he goes on to specify which voice we should listen to and obey:  “Listen carefully… to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice. The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord” (Prologue 1-3) Commentators have noted that “the master” can mean St. Benedict himself, but it can also mean Benedict’s Master, Christ, the Word of God.

Indeed, the psalmist says, “Blessed are they who don’t hang out with those who follow other gods, even the powerful god we call Ego, but rather listen to the Voice that brought us into being, the Voice that shapes us into our own true selves, the Voice that speaks salvation throughout the length and breadth of the bible and indeed of human history:  “Blessed the one          whose delight is the law of the Lord, and who ponders his law day and night.”

And there you have as succinct a description of lectio divina as you will ever read. We will explore it further in later postings.

©Abbey of St. Walburga, 2014 

Unless You Make My Word Your Home: Part IV

Thanks to Dawn Hardison for her report of this conference given by Sister Genevieve at the General Meeting of November 10, 2013.  To reads Parts I, II, or III, click on Blog Archive to the right, select 2014, February, and click on the title you want.

You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.  What does that mean?  What does it mean to be free.  It’s a loaded word, isn’t it?  It’s amazing how many “freedoms” that we are encountering in our world today that we never imagined before.”  So the popular meaning is that I am free to do whatever I want to and nobody can tell me otherwise.  It were be a terrifying world if that were true!  That isn’t what the scriptures mean.  So what does it mean? 

In what ways are we un-free?  What are the things that keep us from being completely free?  Our sins and our faults.  Sr. Genevieve mentioned how much she and her brother fought as children.  That kept her as a child very un-free.  You know that when you are angry, you are not free.  You are not free to pay attention to the other person, you are not free to sit down peacefully and read a book, you are not free.  You are just owned by your anger.  So that would be one.  You can go through all of those seven categories of Evagrius, and they are all ways in which some force alien to ourselves, but that we have made our own, takes over and owns us. And we are not free to be even the person we want to be, never mind the persons God wants us to be. 

So to be free in the deepest definition is to be free to become the persons we are really meant to be.  It takes us a whole life time to discover what that really is.  I suspect we really find the truth when we step over the threshold into the other world.  Oh, That’s what I was supposed to be!  But the more we hang out with Christ, the more we become disciples, the closer we get to being free to grow into who we are meant to be.  And it’s a delightful discovery, isn’t it? 

Some of you have read the poem about when I get older I can wear a red hat with a purple dress.  The idea is that as we get older we discover that we no longer have to be defined by other people, and by expectations that have nothing to do with core realities.  I don’t have to be defined by any of that.  There may be rules that I have to follow for the sake of social well being.  But I do not have to be defined by other people’s expectations.  The expectation that really defines me is God’s expectation, and he’s not sitting back with folded arms and saying “Now this is what you should become.”  God is right there interacting with us in our communion with Christ, saying “This is what you can become.  Wanna play?”

So the more we go through life, the more deeply we grow into communion with Christ, not as defined with definitions of “do I have mystical prayer?” or any of those things, but the kind of deep communion with Christ that doesn’t necessarily have words or feelings associated with it.  The deeper that grows, the free-er I am not to be defined by other peoples rules and expectations.  Unless their rules and expectations happen to be that I become my best self, and some times there are people like that, and there are rules like that. 

So this is a very profound kind of freedom.  It’s the fruit of what Benedict tells us four times in rule, “Prefer nothing to Christ”.  You can read that a million different ways. 
-        Prefer nothing to the love of Christ. 
-        Prefer nothing to Christ’s love for you.
-        Prefer nothing to your love for Christ, because that’s where truth and freedom really lie. 

Now that doesn’t mean that other people don’t count – of course they count.  Because Christ is not just a single eye, Christ is his entire body.  But the truth will make us free because what we will discover, as Christ says elsewhere, “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places, or many rooms.”  The house of many rooms means many different things, I think.  It’s based on the temple, which had many little rooms around the courtyards.  They were used for storage, and some were used for people like the widow Anna to live in.  He was actually talking from a visual image that the disciples would have known. 

But think of the house of God as a house with many rooms.  There’s a room where we can find our way, and be enriched, no matter where we are in our own lives, no matter what part we are in.  Every single dimension of ourselves can be found in this house of many rooms, like suppose I worry.  I particularly like to worry about things I can’t do anything about and they are next week, not today. 

So what did the gospels say – Do not worry about what you have to eat or drink.  I don’t think that means don’t have feelings of worry, but don’t let that rule you.  Or, I’m feeling tired – My rest is in God alone.  I’m feeling a real need to be in deeper communion with someone else.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Every dimension of ourselves, of our truth as it is now, and our truth as it is becoming, every single dimension we can find in this house of many rooms.  So we know the truth was Christ but we come to know our own truth as well.  And we don’t have to apologize for any of it.  Really, it’s all there somewhere. 

And the way of dealing with it is one of the reasons that the book of Job is there.  There’s patient Job for about two chapters, and starting with chapter 3 there is Job telling God how the cow ate the cabbage and how he should not be doing what he is doing, in no uncertain terms.  And he’s angry.   It reveals a human being at his understandable worst, growing into a different kind of wisdom, very painfully.  That’s the human story in one of its aspects, and there it is, right in the Bible.  So the Bible is not all pretty.  It’s not supposed to be all pretty, because we’re not all pretty.  Our reality is not all pretty.  Our all of our reality is in God’s hands and it is capable of growing into ultimate beauty. 

So I think our mandate from God today is, I think, make my word your home.  That’s a very Benedictine mandate.  Make my word your home. 

 Copyright 2014 Abbey of St. Walburga

Unless You Make My Word Your Home: Part III

Thanks to Dawn Hardison for this report of the Conference given by Sister Genevieve at the November 10, 2013, General Meeting.  To read Parts I and II, click on Blog Archive to the right, select 2014, February, and click on the title you want.

“So if you make my word your home, you will truly be my disciples.  You will know the truth…” 

Now that’s an interesting question which Pilate asks in the Gospel of John.  But actually he asks “what is truth?”, where most of us ask “what is the truth?”  How do we usually answer it?  We look for the facts – what exactly is the truth of this matter.  You want information that corresponds to objective reality, which is also somewhat of a delusion.  But what we want are the facts, or we want ideas that corresponds to objective reality.   

But in fact in the Gospel of John the truth is a person.  Jesus says at the last supper, “I am the way, and the truth and the life”.  Now what does that mean?  What do you think of when you think of him being the truth?  The truth has two meanings in the scriptures. All through the Psalms you’ll hear “God is true”.  What that means is faithful, true in the sense of being faithful.  So Jesus can say “I am the way and the truth and the life”, partly because he makes present the fidelity of God.  And it’s a very long fidelity; there are centuries behind that verse. 

I found myself saying one day in a moment of some youthful discouragement, “My life is the story of a long fidelity, but not mine.” Because God is always faithful.  We don’t have to act a certain way to make God love us.  That is built so deep within most of us, that we live that way without even thinking about it.  If I don’t say these prayers, God won’t be pleased.  If I don’t act this way, God won’t be pleased, and God won’t like me.  And the lower our self image the more apt we are to think I’m not very likeable, and so why would God like me.  Why would God want me to pray, or want me to hang around with him.  There are a lot more interesting people to hang around with – like St. Teresa of Avila.  She’d be a lot more fun. 

But in fact that’s not the point.  God is faithful no matter how we are.  God is there, no matter if we are being our very worst selves, God is still there.  Unless we turn around and say (and really mean it) “I want you to go away!” and we slam the door in his face. Now he’s still there in the background, but he’s not so closely linked.  Even when you do that kind of in a fit of temper; “I don’t like you very much because I don’t like what you are asking me to do.  It’s hard and I wish you’d go away!”  I just think God backs off a step and laughs, and says “I’m still here, no matter what.” 

So all those images of God in the Old Testament as the rock – the rock is just there.  You walk outside here, or look outside the windows, and the rock is just there.  The mountains of Colorado have come to mean to me to be like a visual statement of strength and there-ness, that make them a really good image of God.  Now I know the mountains change over time, but I don’t see it happening.  So God is always there.  God is always kind of whispering in the background “I’ve got your back.”  Which is extremely consoling.  That’s not written down in the Bible anywhere but I think I should be so I use it sometimes when I am praying against fear or whatever.  God is always just there.  That’s the nature of God’s fidelity,  He’s always there, and because God is love, that means love is always there.  We can be having temper tantrums, we can be stamping our feet, we can be saying I don’t like this very much, we can forget all about him, but he’s there. 

And Jesus says that in John’s gospel – I am with you always.  And that wasn’t just a message for them.  There’s a beautiful passage by St. John Chrysostom who was, I think, a 4th century Bishop, who spent a good bit of his life in exile.  It is in the office of Readings on September 13, which is his feast day.  He starts out with saying that His promise is what keeps me.  And as the passage unfolds the promise is “I am with you always”.  So here he is being shipped hither and yon in all kinds of difficult circumstances, and Christ says “I am with you always.”  I don’t have to come back because I never go away.  You may, but I don’t. 

So in that sense truth is fidelity, being there. 

The other sense is a little bit more difficult to express.  Christ is the truth, because in his humanity, Christ is humanity as it is meant to be.  We haven’t been ourselves as we are meant to be since way back, millennia ago, ever since that nasty little episode in the garden of Eden.  But Christ is humanity made true.  In the incarnation the Word of God takes on humanity and makes it true.  Returns it to what it is supposed to be.  And so if we know Christ, who is the truth, then we get a glimmer of what we are supposed to be.  He is the truth that we are meant to be. 

Now, it takes a lifetime to grow into that.  We are pretty distorted, by our experience of sin, by being in a far less than a perfect world.  We have all kinds of things that would pull us away from being true in that sense.  But Christ keeps pulling us back, saying “no, the truth is, the truth is.  So as you read the gospels and the other New Testament reflections on Christ, keep thinking – this is the truth.  This is humanity in its truth. 

Now, what does it mean to know the truth; You will know the truth.  Today that means getting factual information, doesn’t it.  Means looking it up on the internet and believing what you find!  I know perfectly well that Wikipedia is not always accurate.  That does not stop me from looking things up on Wikipedia.  And I have found lots of accurate information on there, so some of it is.  But in the scriptures it means more than that.  And you probably know this already.  To know, in Hebrew, is to be in profound communion with.  Not just with your head, but with your whole being.  It is the word that was used for sexual union in the Old Testament.  But it meant even by that something much more than the mechanical joining of two bodies.  It meant two people being in profound communion with one another.  And no matter how close we human beings get doing that, our communion with Christ, knowing the truth in Christ is an intimacy much more profound even than that. 

So you will know the truth; if you will become my disciples, you will really get to know me, but what that really means is that you will grow in such a closeness to me, that you will know without being told who I am and what I am for everybody else. 

Copyright 2014, Abbey of St. Walburga

Unless You Make My Word Your Home: Part II

Thanks to Dawn Hardison for this report of the Conference given by Sister Genevieve at the General Meeting on November 10, 2013.  To read Part I, click on the Blog Archive to the right, select 2014, and click on the title.

Referring back to the scripture Sr. Genevieve started with at the beginning,
“If you make my word your home, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jerusalem Bible),  

She focused on the second section – You will truly be my disciples.  What is a disciple?  A student, a learner, someone who wants to put into practice what their teacher models or explains.  This is the kind of student who in Jesus’ day, for example, spent the day wandering around with the teacher, listening and looking and often asking questions; “That doesn’t make any sense to me, what are you talking about?  What are you doing?”  And thank God they do that, because they are often our questions, and somebody asks them for us so we can take a look at those. 

So in Jesus’ day one became a disciple by hanging around with the teacher and watching what the teacher does as well as listening.  And now, also, we become disciples by reading and the various forms of verbal input by which we are exposed to the scripture.  “So if you make my word your home, you will hang out there and you will become my disciple.”  Because basically the Lord is saying that he hangs out there too, and “You will get to know me better, maybe the parts of me that make you really uncomfortable, maybe the parts that challenge you to grow further”.  So all Christians are disciples, all Benedictines are, by definition, disciples.  So we want to hang out with our teacher any way we can.  There are other ways of hanging out, there are other ways of praying.  But if we make the word our home, we gradually become disciples without even noticing what’s happening.  And the time we notice it is when we suddenly find ourselves in a situation behaving differently than we usually do.  

Transformation is a key word in Benedictine terminology, we refer to Conversatio, which means change.  And we will talk about that at some point.  But it’s particularly transformation, which isn’t dropping the old person and taking on a new one.  It is having the old person gradually grow into a new person by making the word our home and hanging out there. 

And very particularly in the New Testament we find that becoming a disciple requires that we vote with our feet, that we do something.  In Matthew 7:24, Jesus says “everyone who listens to these words of mine, and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”  So it isn’t good enough to just listen to the word, you have to live it. 

As you know that the Rule of Benedict opens with the word “Listen”.  But as you read through the first paragraph of the prologue, the first line of the prologue is “Listen carefully my son to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you” – and the master or the father who loves you can be either Benedict, himself, or Christ – he makes that clear.  “Welcome it and faithfully put it into practice.”  Welcoming it is not enough.  You have to do what it says.  You have to act according to what you discover from watching Christ or listening to Christ.  And he even calls that the labor of obedience.  Benedict is no fool.  He knows it’s not easy, necessarily.  It’s work. 

But unless the word bears fruit in how we are, how we act, what we think, what we do, then we are really just dilatants dabbling in this book, like a mystery novel or whatever.  In the letter of James, later in the New Testament, we have another expression of that. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”  So reading the Bible and having pious feelings about it can be a way of deluding ourselves.  I imagine I am growing holy because, Look, I have all these nice feelings.  Which probably means you’re not doing it very regularly anyway.  But I have these lovely feelings and I go away and I am unchanged.  That’s delusion.  We have to be doers of the word, not hearers only.  Now that’s happens gradually; we don’t always see it happening because we don’t spend our entire life taking our spiritual temperature every 10 minutes and seeing how we are doing.  But gradually we discover ourselves being a little different. 

Copyright Abbey of St. Walburga 2013

Unless You Make My Word Your Home: Part I

Thanks to Dawn Hardison for this report of the conference given by Sister Genevieve at the November 10, 2013 General Meeting.  The conference was quite long, so the report is here published in four posts.

Sr. Genevieve continued the past couple of conferences on Biblical prayer centered around Exodus 3, with a different text today, one that is important to her.  It is from John 8.31-32.
            “If you make my word your home, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  John 8: 31-32 (Jerusalem Bible)

Sr. Genevieve asked:  What qualities do you want in your home?  We want our homes to more than temporary quarters, more than a motel room.  The word home conveys more than the word “house”.  It conveys a whole set of relationships.  It’s not just a shell for an isolated individual, even if we live alone or prefer to have a lot of alone time.  A home is not just an impersonal shell – one size fits all.  It reflects something about us, supports what we would like to be, we, individually, we, as family groupings, or however your household is arranged.  It reflects our values.

When is it that you want to go home?  When you don’t fit in somewhere, if you’re in the hospital, after work, if you’re lonely, if you’re tired.   We have lots of times when we would like to be at home – it isn’t always possible.  And we have lots of things that we mean by home; it may be your present home, or a home in your past, or, in a moment of nostalgia, your family home.  We have particular times when we want to go home – I think also when we are frightened or in threatening circumstances – just get me home!

So let’s think about how our relationship with the Bible fits those notions of the qualities of home and when we want to go home.  If we truly make God’s word our home, what qualities will we look for when we go there?  Will we look for warmth?  Will we look for welcome?  Will we look for hospitality, genuineness, respect  or laughter?  We can find all those things in our relationship with God’s word, but we have to work at it a little bit, because we are not quite used to thinking about that in terms of words on a page or in terms of words spoken by somebody we can’t see, or words that come from times and places long ago and far away.   So we might not feel very much at ease there when we start out. 

How do you become more at ease in a home?  How does your home become welcoming?  You put in personal touches.  “Oh, no!” you say, “We can’t do that with the Bible.  We can’t re-write the Bible!”  But in fact that’s what we do after a fashion with Lectio Divina.  We reflect on the scriptures, and some verses – lots of different verses over time -come to have particular meanings for us that they might not have for somebody else.  They might be associated with some particular time, events, or challenges in our lives. 

Sr. Genevieve mentioned that when she was a novice in her first community she lost her temper (she regrets to say) with a senior sister.  She was subsequently sitting in the chapel, basking in her justified anger with this person – who luckily for her didn’t just reach right around and sock her.  They had to read the scriptures for 15 minutes before Vespers every night, so Sr. Genevieve took out her assigned passage, and God having the sense of humor that God has, the passage assigned to her was “Love is patient.  Love is kind.” Sr. G. really wanted to just crawl under her chair.  There really was no escaping that.  That passage has had a particular significance for her ever since.  

Or, recently she has been giving conferences to various of her assigned communities on Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) which she memorized when she was 10 years old.  She was in a Catholic boarding school and the Sister said they had to memorize something from the Bible.  So she memorized Psalm 23, and at that time she was not a Catholic, and so she memorized it in the King James Version,  which is still embedded in her mind.  She can understand the other ones, but what she thinks of is that one. 

So she was giving a conference to the brand new postulants, who were clearly wondering “how can we have one class, never mind more than one on this Psalm. She went through a lot of it in detail with references to what it could mean, what the text actually says, how it’s a map of the spiritual life, how it says more than you think it says.  For example, in the opening part, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside still waters, He restoreth my soul,”  which suggests that the sheep is coming from somewhere else that had led it to need to be restored.  Well, they spent either two or three classes on this, and at the end they were sitting there with their mouths open, thinking “this simple little Psalm!”.  And she said “You know, this is not the way I thought of it when I was ten years old!”

So, over time, the Bible passages become deeper and deeper and deeper, and richer and richer.  Some of them may never speak to us.  There is no rule that every word of scripture has to speak to us.  But the ones that really do speak to us, either as challenges, or as insights, or as something inviting us into a deeper life with Christ, those have a meaning for us that they might not have for anybody else.  So they’re our home in a very particular sense.  And we know we are in our home, not somebody else’s home when we are dealing with that. 

And of course, every time we pray the scriptures, we are entering into a deeper relationship with Christ, the Word of God made flesh.  So all of the relational qualities we are looking for in our home, we should hope to find in our relationship with Christ. Including laughter.  It’s not all solemnity and dust and ashes.  There can be a lot of joy.  There can be a lot of laughter.  I’m convinced that God has a sense of humor. 

So you can find everything that you’d want in a home relationship in the word.  But how does that happen?  You have to take lots of time.  Home doesn’t become a home the day you move in.  You have to go there often.  You have to find the places in your home that welcome you.  You need to find the passages that speak to you when you’re tired, when you’re lonely.  For example, if you’re tired there are passages like Psalm 62 – My rest is in God alone, a whole reflection on rest.  Or come to me all you who Labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest from Matthew 11:28.  This is a great passage for after work.

As we spend time with the scriptures we begin to find places that we want to go to at times when we have special needs for our home, when we’re lonely, when we’re frightened, when we’re down.  There’s a very interesting author, one of the desert fathers.  The desert fathers were the early Christian monks, many of them but not all of them hermits, who didn’t have a whole lot of resources, no big library.  But they did have the scriptures.  They sometimes had some other kind of venerable texts.  But they spent a lot of time reading the pages of their own lives and what they found in their hearts, and what they found in there.  So they are great teachers of wisdom.  You sometimes have to get past their imagery a little bit, but they are great teachers of wisdom. 

This particular teacher, Evagrius of Ponticus, who examined those movements of the heart that later came to be known as the seven deadly sins.  As he reflected on those, he wasn’t concerned about them as sins, he saw them as temptations.  These are the ways evil messes with us and tries to draw us in.  Pride, greed, lust, vanity – there is a whole list.   But this became kind of a common monastic theme for reflection, because these people were all alone.  They didn’t have a whole lot of protection against the darker side that comes up.  They couldn’t flip on the TV or go visit the neighbors.  (They did sometimes go visit the neighbors, but they were encouraged not to do that as a way of getting out of confronting these things.) 

Evagrius wrote a book called Talking Back.  It finally has become available in English.  I’m not going to encourage you to buy it, it’s rather expensive.  You have to apply the principles to yourself and we will talk about this in some future conference.  For each of those movements, like anger, for example, he draws up a whole list of Biblical texts you can talk back to the demon of anger with, to fight it off. 

For instance, one of the movements that is not listed (and I find that very interesting, among these eight thoughts or passions) is fear.  Perhaps they were not as afraid as we are now.  But when I am afraid, there are Biblical texts I talk back to my fear.  “The Lord is my light and salvation.  Of whom shall I be afraid?”  And you needn’t worry if they are not exact quotations.  We all kind of adapt the words.  Learned Christian writers have always done that.  So over time you acquire a library of texts for making yourself at home, for talking back to the more negative sides of your life, for finding your meaning, for keeping yourself connected with Christ, because you know how hard that is when the day is unfolding. 

How do we get those libraries?  How do we make the scriptures our home?  For one thing, I would strongly recommend to you, if you are not doing this already, go there at regular times, whether you feel like it or not.  If you don’t feel like it that’s the time you most probably need to go.  So set yourself a regular schedule for Lectio Divina. and a regular schedule for praying whatever part of Hours you pray.  Don’t get scrupulous about it, but try to find times you’ll usually be able to hold yourself to. Those of you who are not Oblates yet can move into that.  Because you go home at set times, don’t you?  Not necessarily at the same time every day, but at the end of work, or whatever is your day off, you go there. Home becomes home by our going there, and expecting to go there.  Going home from work becomes a wonderful expectation “I’m leaving that behind and I’m going home now”. 

The same develops with Scripture so that after a while the day doesn’t feel right if your time of prayer is in the morning and you don’t start off with that.  Or if your time of prayer is in the evening, your day doesn’t feel right if you don’t finish up with that.  And sometimes you can’t, just like sometimes you can’t go home when you want to.  But the habit of going home to the Scripture creates in us the kind of familiarity that lets us develop a whole vocabulary, and it develops over a whole lifetime.  Passages that might have meant something to you when you were younger kind of lose their flavor and something new comes to the fore. 

The two Benedictine practices that particularly assist this process of going home is first of all the daily hours – those have a regular rhythm.  Whatever book you are using usually will require you to pray texts that you might not have chosen for yourself.  And sometimes those are the very best ones.  Because the divine sense of humor picked them, when you did not. 

Secondly, daily Lectio Divina, or regular Lectio Divina if you are not able to do it every day.  Spend time immersing yourself in the scripture.  And if Lectio is unfamiliar we will talk about that later.    But particularly I would like to suggest to you the four phases of Lectio.  Be careful! These are not four rules.  The four phases of Lectio are first of all lectio, which means reading – you have to start by reading.  The second is meditatio, which seems to translate easily into meditation, and it does, but that actually has two different meanings.  The one that is more common and that appeals to people is thinking about the text, or meditating.  But the original meaning was to simply repeat the text over and over and over again.  Murmuring it to yourself, so that basically monks were expected all day long to have this library of texts in their head, maybe the text they read for lectio this morning, and just keep repeating it.  And it will make its meaning known if you do that. 

Sr. Genevieve has begun to do that again recently, and has discovered it’s the best way to get back from all the distracted places she wanders into.  She’s come to rename it “what is my default thought? What thought will I default to today.”  Not too long ago it was “In the beginning was the Word” and then she brooded about the fact that in all beginnings there is the Word.  So when she would find herself wandering around the house thinking destructive thoughts like “Why is she doing that?” she began to work harder to go to her default text.  And it’s amazing how calming that can be.  It keeps you calm and focused, and then you can go on.  

Just think about doing that, taking something short – a phrase, a sentence, or even a picture or an image from the Biblical story, or even a feeling from it – however you work in your interior life.  Carry it around with you, pull it out real often during the day, and see if that doesn’t help feeling at home. 

Copyright 2013  Abbey of St. Walburga