The Abbot’s Notebook for April 18, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Christ is risen!  Alleluia!  One of the challenges of serving a community is to know that when I am about to leave for a trip, there will be no time for myself because so many want to see me about just anything.  And sometimes when returning it is the same.  Ah, the peaceful contemplative life.

The other day when I returned from taking Benny the Weimaraner to have his stitches (in this case staples) removed from his surgery, within 10 minutes I found out that the water system was not working, that the north powerhouse had problems, that the south powerhouse had ceased for a bit, that a brother was sick, etc.

Spirituality for me often consists just in remaining still and peaceful when everything seems to be going wrong.  It is not easy for me to do that, especially if I have lots of other things that I feel that I should be doing.  The key is always in letting go of what I want to do or think that I should do, and simply listening with patience and knowing that all shall be well in due time.  So easy to say and so difficult to do at times.

I am in Mexico right now.  Brother Jude and I came to our Monastery of La Soledad on Monday and tomorrow we leave for the Monastery of Thien Tam in Texas.  Brother Jude had never been to Mexico before and so I invited him to travel with me.  When we get to Texas, we will meet up with Father Mayeul, Father Andrew and Brother James.  The monks from Thien Tam will pick us up at the airport.  Brother Bonaventure will also be joining us at Thien Tam for a short visit.  On April 23rd, three of the monks of Thien Tam will make their solemn vows.  Please pray for Father James Nam, Brother Vincent Duong and Brother Paul Viet Buong.

Often when I speak of the spiritual life, I speak about practices and ways of doing things.  For instance, to remain calm and peaceful no matter what happens requires practice and always will include some failures.  What is most important, however, is that within us, we are truly seeking God and His presence and His will.  Humanly, my life can be better if I practice calmness and patience, but that does not necessarily make me a Christian, a follower of the Lord.

This was a lesson that I learned while doing Zen and Yoga many years ago.  I could do the same things as others but within me, my goal was to meet the Lord and to be with the Lord as closely as possible.  Sitting in silence is wonderful.  More wonderful yet is sitting in silence with the Lord Jesus present and my being aware of His presence, yet without thinking about it.  Using various postures of my body to be aware of reality is wonderful and can be incredibly helpful in focusing my personally and in focusing me on all that is around me.  More wonderful yet is being aware of the presence of Christ in the way that I use my body to be aware of all that is.

So often a Christian and a person doing Zen or a person doing Yoga can look exactly the same.  The difference is in the reality in which one lives and in the reality one chooses to acknowledge in one’s life.  When I was practicing Zen and sitting in the full-lotus position and being only in inner and outward silence, I looked just like the person beside me in terms of what I was doing.  But in the depths of my being, without words, I was aware of the presence of the Lord and in some mysterious way, without words or thoughts, relating to that presence as the most important reality of my life.

Some of my friends could not understand me, so I spent a long time trying to speak about these mysteries in a way that could be understood.  I am not a mystic, but only a normal Christian man seeking the face of the Lord.  Yes, I am a monk, but that does not give me any special entrance door to the presence of the Lord.  Like everyone else in this life, I have to struggle against my own tendencies to laziness, to lust and to indifference.  There are plenty of other struggles.  In these struggles I come to know myself and to know the presence of the Lord sustaining me and encouraging me.  All the religious practices that I undertake are for the sake of knowing Him whom I call the Lord and the One who loves me and invites me to share His life.

It took me many years to be able to speak about my own experiences in a way that seemed more understandable to others.  It was important for me to find a way to share this adventure of seeking God without appearing to be any different from anyone else.  Inside me, I am confident that I am not different from others, but only have some facility in expressing some of the realities that I have experienced in the seeking of God.  In this kind of seeking of God, it is important not to take oneself too seriously but to take God completely seriously.

I found role models in the Old Testament.  There are lots of people there who are interesting in God and who take God seriously.  I never identified with any of the prophets because I don’t seem to be like them at all.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all seemed just ordinary men called by God and that appealed to me.  David also seemed an ordinary person, at least at the beginning of his calling.  Samuel and Jonathan.  There are lots of people in the Scriptures who seem just ordinary people and who are called to walk with the Lord and to express their relationship with God.  Being able to see God working in these people of the Old Testament also helps me to see God at work in the New Testament, in the Apostles, the disciples, the authors of the various books of the New Testament.

If I were writing as a woman, then I would identify with Sarah and Rebecca and Bathsheba and others like them.  And in the New Testament with the seveal women with the name Mary and with Magdalene and Lydia and Dorcas and other women mentioned by name.

As women or men, we are invited to come to know the reality of God and the reality of God in Jesus Christ—and in the power of the Spirit to spend our lives seeking this God so that God can transform our lives.

As always, I am praying for you and for your needs and intentions.  Always I beg of you your prayers for me and for the monks of this community and for the women and men of all the communities associated with ours.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip