The Abbot’s Notebook for March 22, 2017

Blessings to you!  Here I am again in my own office, writing to you from my normal computer.  The past couple of weeks have been a challenge but so often life is a challenge and always we must learn to see the challenge and respond to it.

My health is pretty good at the moment.  I am recovering well for the surgery on my appendix.  I am recovering from the blood clots in my legs.  I am recovering from the shingles.  All of these processes seem well advanced at this point.  I have an appointment later this week to have the staples from the surgery removed.  I have an appointment at the end of the month to discuss the dates for the biopsy on the tumor in my chest.  So please keep praying for me.  There are lots of people in the world much worse off than I am!

I even drove myself to Albuquerque last week.  I took along a driver just in case but I was able to do 80% of the driving.

One of the things that came strongly to me this past week is that my pains and sufferings are here and then go away.  Lots of people have to live with chronic pain and suffering.  I sure would not like that, but if that kind of pain and suffering came to me, I think that I could accept it without complaint.  I would try to, for sure.

This week my spirituality has to be about waiting on the Lord.  There is nothing else I can do except wait.  A lot of childhood was spent waiting for one thing or the other.  Waiting is not a strange element in my life.  Waiting for a biopsy of a tumor in me is strange.  Never would I have guessed that this might happen.  But the unexpected does happen and an authentic spirituality is able to readjust to whatever reality is revealed by the unexpected.

In a monastery, we live by schedules and so there is very little of the unexpected.  That can be a challenge for the monk.  We get so used to our schedules that we don’t want to be interrupted by other things.  My personal experience over many years is that my spirituality is guided by the interruptions, not by the schedule.

The early desert monks talked about being hidden away, far from people, so that the monks could concentrate on prayer and on giving himself to the Lord.  They also recognized that if anyone knocked at the door of the monk’s cell, that knock was from God and had to be attended to.  If too many people knocked, then the monk was encouraged to leave that cell and go further into the desert where less people would venture.  But the principal was always the same:  the interruption was the call of God!

I really like long stretches of time without interruptions!  I rarely get such long periods of time.  Sometimes I forget how to use the long periods of time because I become accustomed to interruptions.  My recent illness have allowed me longer periods of time again.  That means that I can sit with the Bible in my lap and spend time just listening to the Word of God.  Usually I have to “get” my Lectio in bits and snatches whenever I can.  This illness has given me the opportunity to do what I used to consider “normal” Lectio.

Sometimes I have felt “lazy” when doing Lectio, because really it is just sitting with the Lord of God and being still and listening.  In the listening I try to unite my heart and my mind with the Lord.  It is not actually doing anything and yet it is “being with” the Lord.  That experience of just “being with” is at the heart of contemplative monastic life.  I often tease people that we monks are “useless” because we don’t do anything worthwhile.  Instead, we do little things:  we cook, we clean, we pray together—but we don’t have any great goal other than “being with the Lord.”

My parents found that inaction on my part very difficult to accept when I first came to Christ in the Desert.  In my previous monastery, I actually did things:  I taught classes, I ran programs, etc.  Here at Christ in the Desert, from their point of view, I “did nothing.”  Eventually my parents came to accept this way of life and its “uselessness” because they began to see that, in spite of doing nothing, we had an effect on people—and even eventually on my parents themselves.

Once I recover from all of this, will I remain faithful to a sort of “normal” Lectio?  I hope so.  But I can still be easily distracted.  It is not easy for me to focus for long periods of time.  It really helps me sleep, though!  The more I try to focus on the Word of God, the easier it is to fall asleep.  I think that falling asleep happens because my body is still tired and trying to recover and then focusing allows my body to relax—and then, sleep!!

At one level, the only thing that matters is to cling to God through all that happens.  Even while clinging to God, I am the type of person who tries to understand a bit of what is happening.  And I am the type of person who always tries to put order into my life.  All my life, pretty much, I have lived by schedules.  I entered the seminary at 14 years old and have lived an institutionalized life since that time, with very few breaks.  The regularity in my life has allowed me to do lots of things:  study, music, wood carving, weaving, mechanical things, plumbing, electrical things, etc.  For over 40 years my main occupation has been leading the community.

Almost always I remember that choosing anything excludes other things.  I know that I cannot do everything.  The one thing necessary, for me, has always been praying and seeking the Lord.  Most likely that is why I am where I am!

As always I send you my love and prayers.  I will celebrate Holy Mass this week once for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please continue to pray for me and for the women and men of our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip