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Pastoral Gleanings from the Trappists -2012

Posted on August 30th, 2012

At the end of my summer vacation each year, I take a week for a retreat on the lovely grounds of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.  About 60-70 men live there, dedicated to a life of prayer. I love the silence, the singing of the Psalms, the beauty of the landscape, the contrast to my life in New York City. One of the highlights for me continues to be a growing relationship with Father Dominic. He his a former Dominican priest with a PH.D in Thomas Aquinas.He taught at Georgetown University before sensing a call to a greater life of prayer. This led him out of the Dominican order to become a Trappist. He now serves as the prior of the monastery (i.e. the COO, or#2 person). We met each day for spiritual direction and a “conference.” He is engaged in many “un-monastic” things, such as strategic planning, running a business, dealing with attorneys and financial experts, marketing, etc. to keep the village of this monastery running. He has wrestled deeply with having an interior life with Jesus while carrying large “active” responsibilities. Our time together centered on the interrelationship of three areas– contemplation, leisure, and solitude.The following are a few of my gleanings: 1. Contemplation. Contemplation doesn’t take place on the edge of life but in the very center of it. It is a matter of stopping for a second and glancing at the sky, or a face, or listening to the rain or wind. To lift our eyes in such a way is to be searched, changed, and transformed by God – a God who contemplates us. Contemplation has to be brought into everyday life, into all our relationships.  Without this we are not wholly conscious or alive. 2. Leisure. Leisure is not to “kick back, relax, and unwind.” Rather it is an ability to let things happen, to be undisturbed, un-distracted, and profoundly receptive to reality. It is an inwardly spacious way of being present and open and responsive to where we are, regardless of the situation. Leisure actually is a form of contemplation. He reminded us that an incapacity to enjoy leisure was considered, in the Middle Ages, to be the sin of sloth or restlessness. (See Piper in Leisure, the Basis of Culture). 3. Solitude. “If you are never solitary, you are never religious.” But it is more than aloneness. This is the “desert stillness” where God speaks to us in the depths of our hearts. This is not only the principal requirement of prayer, but also the source of almost all genuine creativity. Almost all serious things have to be done in silence – prayer, writing, painting, listening, loving, etc. How important is contemplation, leisure and solitude for your own leadership and spirituality?

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