The Abbot’s Notebook for May 2, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Christ is risen!  Alleluia!  Our life here at Christ in the Desert continues always to be a challenge.  One of the great challenges is language.  Father Simeon has arranged for a whole series of courses of English as a Second Language during this year.  What a gift we have in the professors who come and help our brothers learn English!  What gratitude we have for them.

Some of us were reminiscing a few days ago about the various women and men who have come into the life of our monastery and have given so much to us.  The younger monks know the people who have come more recently.  The older monks have memories stretching back some decades now.  Our archives have a lot of the history of the monastery and the wonderful ways in which people have helped our monastery.

Our former brother, John Leinenweber, wrote a history of the first ten years of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.  That history was never published but has been read by various brothers in the community.  Marigay Graña wrote a history of the first four decades, more or less of the monastery.  She died last year and I ask your prayers for her.  Histories are always from a point of view and histories always included stories and accounts that some think perhaps are not exactly what happened.  This is because when witnesses recall an event, that event is always recalled in various ways.  Only if someone is making an immediate video of everything that is happening could have a history that everyone could agree to at some level.

Even when a happening is recorded on video, there are various interpretations of what the recorded actions actually mean.  Our humanity is so complex and we need to recognize that no two people ever see things in exactly the same way and no two people interpret things in exactly the same way.

All of this is important in the spiritual life because in a real life, conflicts arise from time to time with other people.  We don’t always understand what happens to cause conflict and very often we don’t take the time to try to understand it.  Instead, we react.  I have done this for years, even when I know theoretically that if I can just remain peaceful, all will be much better.  Have I improved over the years?  Possibly a bit.  Have I been able to maintain peace and tranquility when other do or say things against me in my presence?  Not always.

Learning to listen peacefully is one way I struggle to understand better what is happening.  Active listening is a wonderful gift in the spiritual battle.  The battle is against me, not against the other person.  I struggle to keep my attention on the other person, seeking to understand as best I can what they are trying to communicate to me.  Communication takes an effort when it is about an important topic.  Probably most of us are used to speaking and to presuming that the other person or persons understand what we mean.

In our community at Christ in the Desert we are now monks from 15 or 16 countries, depending on who is at home.  We come from various backgrounds within those countries.  Some monks have pretty advanced degrees already from universities and others are just starting their studies.  Our formation as persons comes from our families and our cultures, which are very diverse.  To understand one another requires extra time and effort—and there are times when we forget that.  We want to presume that if we say something, it is understood.

Life in our community is not that way!  We have to take the extra time to make sure that we are understood and that we have understood the other.

This is good practice, even among those of us from the United States.  Here also we presume that we understand each other—and so often we do not and then we get into difficulties.

If we turn our attention for a moment to our Sacred Scriptures, the Bible, then we find the same problems.  So often we read a passage of Scripture and presume that we know what it means—and we don’t because we have not taken the time to understand the passage.  Or sometimes we get sidetracked by the concerns of our own age which were not at all concerned of the age in which a particular passage of Scripture was written.

Most of us were not raised with much knowledge, if any, of how the Jewish people understand the Old Testament.  We usually know even less about how those Old Testament people would have understood the revelations of the Old Testament.  On the other hand, there is a living tradition of Jewish understanding of the Scriptures.  This is why great Scripture scholars take time to learn more about Judaism and its history.  Only in that way can we come to understand how God’s revelation is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

When Jesus walks on the Road to Emaus with two followers who did not recognize Him, he explains the Scriptures to them so that they can understand who He is.  When it says “Scriptures,” it means the texts of the Old Testament.  That should be a key for us.  We need to read and understand the Old Testament in order to understand Jesus in the New Covenant.

So our spiritual lives need big doses of just listening to others, listening to the Jewish tradition, listening to the New Testament, listening to the Church, listening to one another.  In order to do this, we must humble ourselves and accept that only in listening might we come to understand and know Jesus better.

As always I am praying for you and for your needs and intentions.  I will offer Holy Mass once this week for you.  Please pray for me and for the sisters and brothers of our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip