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Four Days with the Trappists: Part 3

Posted on December 2nd, 2009

Perhaps the most significant thing that emerged from me out of my four days with the Trappists revolved around the theme of “THE DIFFICULT LOVE OF LOVING OUR ENEMIES” This was the theme of Father Dominic’s conferences. His basic thesis was that if silence and solitude with God does not lead to greater love for our enemies, then it is not worth much. UGH! I have been serving as a leader seeking to build Christian community for over 22 years at New Life. I am under no illusions around the suffering involved in modeling the love of Christ as a church. When I discovered the monastic tradition over 7 years ago, what came alive in me was contemplation with God – apart from other people. While I love our people, the connection to a greater love for people has not been a major part of this 7+ year journey. Geri, more than once, has suggested to me that my judgementalism has worsened, not improved over these years! Father Dominic basically argued against the impossibility of thinking about contemplation or “spiritual life” in abstraction from the actual business of living in the body of Christ, that is, living in concrete community. He quoted and expounded on the following sayings of the Desert Fathers:  “Our life and our death is with our neighbor.  If we win our brother, we win God.  If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.”  Moses the Black, a converted Ethiopian highwayman who was a bigger-than-life personality, wrote:“The monk must die to his neighbor and never judge*him at all in any way whatever.” Father Dominic noted:  ”By judging” I don’t mean realistically discerning what is good and evil, right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate.  I mean, deciding whether someone else, as a person, is worthy of love, or in some sense is to be “written off” (“condemned”).  A good synonym for “judging” in this sense is “despising.”  Being “judgmental” of persons, hardening our hearts against them, is the problem; not judging the rightness or wrongness of their behavior or choices.” He then quoted John Climacus from the 7th century: “The failures of beginners result almost always from greed. In those who are making progress, the failures come also from too high an opinion of themselves.  In those nearing perfection, they come solely from judging their neighbor.” I will close with the wise words of Abba Theodore of Pherme said, “There is no other virtue than that of not despising anyone.” Why do you think it is so easy to separate our relationship with God from loving our “enemies”?

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