April 27, August 27, December 27
Chapter 69: That the Monks Presume Not to Defend One Another
Care must be taken that no monk presume on any ground
to defend another monk in the monastery,
or as it were to take him under his protection,
even though they be united by some tie of blood-relationship.
Let not the monks dare to do this in any way whatsoever,
because it may give rise to most serious scandals.
But if anyone breaks this rule,
let him be severely punished.
In one of his tapes of lectures given to formation classes at
Gethsemani, Merton speaks of a loneliness at the core of each
monastic that cannot be touched and OUGHT not to be touched. I saying
that, he articulated one of those sensed things that one learns
(hopefully!) by osmosis in monastic community. Hearing him I had both
the sense of "Wow! I never heard that before!" and also knowing that
I knew exactly what he meant, just had never talked about it. It's
just one of those things we rather "know" without putting into words
very often. Goes with the territory.
In every monastic struggler, from newest Oblate to Abbot Primate,
this place of aloneness- and sometimes loneliness- exists. It must
exist. It must be protected. It is at the very root of our
name: "monos" alone, solitary. (Yes, I am aware that "monos" is
sometimes rendered more in the sense of single-minded, having one
purpose, in the sense of purity of heart, but I think the more
general opinion holds with "alone.")
This is a breathtakingly sacred place of solitude, where, like Jacob,
we wrestle with God and with ourselves. It is the place where all
those unlovely things we have to confront in ourselves are first
displayed. It is part and parcel of the original monastic way: alone
with God. It is what we have retained of the Desert. It may be the
only place left to many of us where we are like St. Antony the Great,
dwelling alone in the tombs. It can often be no less smelly and scary
than the tombs, too! Sigh... the place where we gradually meet our
true selves not always a cloistered paradise!
Preserving this necessarily inviolate solitude is what this chapter
is all about. No matter how much one loves another monastic, one
must know to leave this place alone. This is the place where every
monastic must be a stand-alone grown up before God, with no
defenders, no co-dependency, no illusions on the part of those who
may think they are doing a favor by taking one's part. I think most
of us dwelling in monasteries know this almost by instinct. We know,
somehow, the place beyond which one must not go. To go there imperils
both parties in many, many ways.
This does not impoverish relationships, though it does limit them. We
can have very, very dear friends who are married and know fully well
that there are places in their hearts and lives we must not go. So it
is with monastics. In each of us there is this (pardon the bridal
imagery,) "married" place where others dare not meddle, nor should
they. This is the love of realism. I cannot "love" my brother by
taking from him the very arena from which monastic growth springs. If
I do so, I am defeating him and defeating myself. No, we must love in
truth, and that is not always easy. We must desire firmly the best
for those we love, and it is so easy for the self to get in the way
of those desires.
Married people, no doubt, could also attest that in a healthy couple,
there are still places like this, places of adulthood all alone which
are not touched, cannot be touched. It is the existential one-on-one
with God that we all have to one degree or another. What monasticism
hopes to do is to teach us the frightening boon that we have in such
solitary adulthood. It is the time we get real. It is the moment of
Truth. And Jesus did, after all, say: "I am the Truth." What an
encounter both terrifying and sublime!
Love and prayers,
jeromeleo@... St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA