The Abbot’s Notebook for May 16, 2018
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
Blessings to you! Christ is risen! Alleluia! I am still in Mexico as this letter goes out but tonight I will be back at Christ in the Desert. The time here has been joyful as well as challenging. Last year I had some doubts that I would be traveling any more at all, but I have survived the challenge of flights and long rides in cars and buses and then the countless hours spent listening to what is happening here.
As I think about the role of serving others, more and more I see the challenge of listening until it is relatively clear what the other person is trying to say and trying to communicate with me. Very often I presume that I am understanding the other person—and the truth is that I have not heard what the other person was trying to communicate. This is more challenging when I am speaking or listening in a language that is not my first language. I also recognize that even in my first language, there are huge challenges to understanding another person.
At Christ in the Desert we have many forms of English. Those of us who speak English as a first language come from various cultures. Even those of us who come from very similar cultures sometimes have enormous differences in the meaning of words and how we understand those meanings.
I could go on and on with this theme but it seems clear to me that one of the great challenges of leadership and service of others is very simple: listen! This is also an enormous part of the spiritual life. Saint Benedict begins his Rule for Monks with the word: Listen! The practice of “lectio” is about reading the Word of God and then listening to that Word. The spiritual practice of the monk can be summarized: “lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio.” It sounds good in Latin and would be translated: “read, meditate, pray, contemplate.”
Unless we have heard with the ears of our hearts what we are reading, everything else will be off the mark. This is one of reasons for belonging to the Church. It is a gift of the believing community throughout history to be able to tell us how Scripture is to be understood. We are invited to “listen to the Church.” Often we get off the track because we see the sinfulness of people in the Church and then find it difficult to listen to the Church. My own sense is that when we see sinfulness in the Church and get distracted, it is normally because we are distracted from our own sinfulness and forget that God works in us, even when we are sinful.
Listening takes time and energy—and an awareness that we might not understand. Very often, perhaps most often, we listen and there are not problems because we are listening only to things that are not very important. It may be that our prayer is less than it could be because we are not listening with all our heart. Many times, human relationships are not very deep because there is no effort to listen to the other.
Those who are married often encounter the challenges of communication. Love does not conquer all, at least not immediately. And when children begin to arrive in a family, there are more challenges of communication.
With God, we are challenged in a different way because God always understands us. We don’t understand God. The Scriptures are God’s words to us and we must take the time to read those words, to meditate those words, to pray those words—and, if God gives us a grace, even to contemplate those words. This same dynamic is present with humans, but there is a difference because of the vast difference between God and us. There is also a huge difference because God is all powerful and all loving and we are not.
Last week I wrote about the two dogs that were lost and then returned. We can meditate on God’s presence in that situation, even while realizing that dogs are a different reality in God’s creation than are humans. In modern society, we tend to treat animals better than humans. Society seems totally unresponsive to the killing of millions of children through abortion. At the same time, there are enormous movements not to kill cows, not kill any animals, not to harm trees. There is a total disconnect about moral values concerning humans and moral values concerning animals and creation.
Always we can begin to see changes if we start to listen to God. Sure there are lots of ways to interpret the word of God! On the other hand, there are long and accepted traditions in the Jewish faith and in our Christian tradition about what the word of God means in our lives. It is a real challenge for all of us to be still and to listen to the Word of God and to open our hearts to receive what that Word says.
Here in Mexico I met a young woman whose husband has disappeared. Most likely he is dead as a victim of the many murders that happen here. So often people disappear who are not involved in anything but are caught in situations and then murdered. Please pray for Alejandro. Not knowing anything is terrible and even more difficult to bear, in many ways, than know that he has been murdered.
I send you my love and prayers and ask your prayers for me and for the women and men of our communities. As always I will celebrate Holy Mass for you once this week.
Your brother in the Lord,