The City is My Monastery Excerpt
I sense within myself, more than ever, not the need to do more, but actually to be stiller. The need for the monastic values in the centre of the city – for sacred space, for people to come and replenish tired, stressful or simply busy lives.
To provide space for silence. To become an oasis of the Spirit. Not simply to be managers organizing resources and events, but those who seek God: to be men and women of contemplation and prayer, who know their utter dependence on God’s grace; those who believe that that God is incarnated in our lives and whose vocation is to make a place and a space for that presence. How can I or others do this? How can we do it without being depleted or running dry like those water mains which burst so that the water runs frothy and grey down the gutters and is wasted? The good news is that we do not do this. We simply prepare the space for God to be with us. We create a sacred space, a Nazareth in the centre of the city – the pattern that allows us to be present. Discipline is not a prison to be feared. It is a deeper listening. It is the creation of a form, structure and exercise that allows for the roots to go down and the branches to grow. If we keep on digging up our roots how will we grow? Or to use another image – our spiritual discipline is like the banks of a river. It is not for its own sake. Banks without the river would be pointless, but the banks are there to allow the river of God’s love to flow. What is this discipline?
Well, in the words of St Benedict it is ‘a school of love’. It is learning to listen again with ‘the ear of the heart’.
It will actually involve not doing more, but doing less, but each element with more attentiveness and joy.
It will involve letting go of some of those elements of your life that you do not need: a turning off of the stuff that is dragging you away from where you want to be. Literally a turning off at some times of the mobile, the computer, the television, the agendas and habits that are depleting you.
It will involve a slower and more attentive way of living, and practising the things that bring consolation, hope and thanksgiving. You will find the cure to your sense of meaningless and loneliness is solitude.
So what was my own deepest longing? I had lived for 15 years as a member of the Melanesian Brotherhood in the South Pacific. I knew the deep rhythms and beauty of the religious way of life as well as its struggles and difficulties. But how could the wisdom of that life be embodied in the midst of a busy city? And the more I prayed, the more I heard this calling:
Live more prayerfully
Live more holistically
Live more gently with others and with self
Live with more space for silence and solitude
Live generously and hospitably
Live with an attentiveness to God, to creation and to neighbour
Live with a greater recognition of God in all things
Learn from the community of others
Rediscover a poverty of spirit that lets go of ambition and self-interest and look for Christ where he was found during his life – on the edge among the lost