Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cenobitic Living

Benedict is pretty clear: Be a cenobite.

When I first entered community, I have to admit, I hadn't heard of the word cenobite before, but after the Prologue in the Rule of Benedict, Benedict goes straight to a description of the different types of monks in Chapter 1.

"First, there are the cenobites, that is to say, those who belong to a monastery, where they serve under a rule and a prioress/abbot."

Sounds good...rather straightforward. Then, he goes on to explain the hermits. Following the hermits come the sarabaites, "the most detestable kind of monastics." According to Benedict they do "whatever strikes their fancy." Doesn't lend well to obedience, does it?

But, it gets worse. Fourth and finally come the gyrovagues, those monks who never settle down. "In every way they are worse than the sarabaites," says Benedict. If you do the math, then, gyrovagues are worse than the most detestable kind of monastics. Yikes! The chapter concludes:

"Let us pass them [the other monastics] by, then, and with the help of God, proceed to draw up a plan for the strong kind, the cenobites."

Cenobites seek God in community. Another part of novitiate involves having conversations about current events with the cenobites in this community...aka my sisters.

A few months back, my conversation partner and I were reading a piece about the movie, Into Great Silence, a film chronicling the lives of a community of Carthusian monks in the French Alps. Laurence Freeman writes:
It [the film] is a love story. This is the secret of the film. The monks seem happy but are not in love with each other. If they love each other it is because they are in love with the same invisible yet apparently ever-present person. Unnamed, unseen, even unspoken to, God plays in every scene. At first, one assumes it is the visible actors who are the lovers. Slowly it dawns that they are mirrors. The love we speak of is not our love for God but God's love for us.
We seek God most fully with others. I am learning more and more how true this is. Sitting down for these conversations is one way I am learning this. So, how wonderful it was to receive a quote from this month's conversation partner yesterday. This is what triggered the above-quoted words to come to mind. From the book series, The Hawk and the Dove:
Something is restored in both of them as they part company. Brother Damien, walking back to the claustral buildings of the monastery, reflects that though he came out of the world to this place to draw closer to God, the main thing he's found himself encountering is raw, uncompromised humanity - not least his own. He thinks maybe those two things aren't as distinct as he always assumed.
Sure, it isn't always easy. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of Benedict, whose fellow monks tried to poison him. "Raw, uncompromised humanity" is far from perfect, but Benedict knew, and these writers seem to agree, that the best way to God is to share life with others. And, if my time in this community is any indicator so far, I agree with Benedict: Be a cenobite.

Let us walk in the holy presence.