Don’t Monks Know All About Stillness?

In a previous blog post (Finding God Instead), I discussed what I learned from a Writers and Podcasters Conference.  The main topic was about stillness and how important it is to write or do anything else, from that stillness.

A good and trusted friend who understands what the monastery is all about made an insightful but scary comment to me.  She suggested that people might be surprised that a monk learned so much from what Dr. Rossi said about stillness and silence.

Why would explaining this be scary?

It’s scary because to answer the question I have to become even more vulnerable.  The answer to the question involves explaining some of the struggles of daily life in a monastery as well as admitting some of my failings.  The vulnerability isn’t just that I’m forced to let you into that ‘world’ a bit, but it means that I have to acknowledge a particular failing to myself.  That makes it scary, but also worthwhile and beneficial.

Don’t monks know all about stillness?

Some do.  At moments I learn things, and at moments I forget them.  There is a common misconception among many that monks just sit around all day and pray and read.  Perhaps some do.  Living in a monastic community, especially a smaller one, in the 2000s in the United States doesn’t allow that.  The truth of the matter is, we are poor.  That’s a good thing!

What does being poor have to do with anything?

In our society, we need to pay for certain things.  We have a mortgage; we have food costs, we have general upkeep costs, we have all the bills a general household would usually have, but we have it for nine men at the moment.

Where some monasteries have extremely large benefactors that take care of all of their costs we do not.  We do have some very generous benefactors, and I do not wish to understate their importance.  They give more than I would ever imagine giving if I were out in the world. For the most part, though, we are a monastery, made up of widows mites.  People are giving what they can, and sacrificing from the little they have.  It’s humbling.  Our benefactors, both large and small put me to shame regarding their holiness and love for God and support of the Church.  God will bless them abundantly!

But back to the earlier point.

We have more bills than money donated, and this means we have to earn our living.  Another good thing.  For a small, poor monastery, this means extending yourselves regarding work.  There is the typical upkeep work of a large building.  Meals need to be prepared, dishes washed,  bathrooms cleaned, floors mopped and many other everyday chores.  On top of this, we have recently begun a small coffee business.  We run a small guest house.  We are working on putting out more newsletters, applying for grants, ministering to the needs of the surrounding communities, and putting on retreats and welcoming guests.

We also have our public prayer.  Our prayer sustains us and is lengthy.  We are in the chapel for between roughly 4-6 hours on a typical day.  I wouldn’t ever want to change this.  It is the lifeblood of the community.  I only bring it up because it can help make the point.

This can lead to a very busy schedule.  A schedule that can at times be completely overwhelming.  There are often days that are non-stop from waking up (for me) at five in the morning and going to bed at nine at night.

Monks, as well as people in ‘the world,’ can get caught up in their work and overextend themselves.  For all of us, this can mean a loss of those periods of silence which allow for the stillness from which all of our actions should flow.  There are a lot of similarities between monks and parents it seems.  Parents have days that are non-stop like the monks (or vice-versa is probably the better way to say it).

Now for the scary, vulnerable part of myself.

At times, and recently, I have been extremely busy with the work of the monastery and have greatly overextended myself.  This has meant that I have not had those moments of silence and stillness to the extent that I should.  I am forced to admit to myself, and to you, that in some respects, mostly that of attaining stillness and silence, I have failed.  The reassuring thing for me is that, from what I’ve learned, a monks life involves non-stop failure.  In fact, the life of a Christian seems to involve non-stop failure.

We are not measured by how many times we fall, but by how many times we get up. Click to Tweet
As long as the number of times we get up is equal to the number of times we fall, we’re good!  The fact that, if I want to be lifted up, Christ will always be there to do so, offers me reassurance after I fail.

The talk from Dr. Rossi on silence and stillness and doing everything from there reminded me that I need to change my focus a bit so that I allow God to work in me.  I learned a lot from the talk on stillness because I have failed as a monk, I have fallen.  He reminded me to get back up and go about it again.  If I am still and silent God will lift me up.

Pray for me.

I will pray for you.

Br. Isaac

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