Roots and Ladders – Benedictine Monasticism & the Integral Christian Future – Pre-Conference Workshop #ITC2013

by Jeremy Johnson

Hospitality As Kosmopolitan

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9:00 AM. I picked this workshop to start with because the Christian Contemplative path has always profoundly spoke with me. There was a time where I kept The Cloud of Unknowing in my winter jacket pocket, riding the NYC subways. It was my deep companion for a while. And as Sister Jean and Dr. Neville Kelly tells us at the beginning of this event, the Benedictine order in particular has been very present in the integral world. They tell us why.

First, Roots and Ladders. Roots, Dr. Kelly tells us, are our origins. The deep contemplative practice. Our lineage and “nit and grit” sustained practices and traditions of the Christian Tradition (or any tradition). Ladders are the future, the emergence of the Christian tradition in the context of the 21st century. A play of time: past and future. Looking back to look forward, to look back again:

“We’re constantly maintaining this upward and downward motion: between the past and the future. There’s rootedness, as well as this laddered ascent.”  - Neville Kelly

We get a crash course in the history of monasticism, leading us right up to the present day with monasticism becoming one of the initiators of planetary interreligious dialogue.

11:11 AM. We’re discussing the history of inter-religious dialogue in the 20th century. Some really great work here, including Thomas Merton’s participation (and tragic death) at the East West Conference in Bangkok. That was the start of a forray of inter-religious meetings after Vatican II’s move towards religious and theological, well, kosmopolitan spirit. My favorite part from this moment was David Tracy’s (?) statement: We need to be awakened from our dogmatic slumber… by understanding the other Great Ways.” A wonderful book I’d love to check out: Blessed Simplicity: The Monk as the Universal Archetype.  What’s interesting to me is that it was through contemplative communities, in both East and West, that an interreligious conversation could be initiated successfully.

After Vatican II, the Benedictines were invited to initiate these kinds of dialogues between world faiths, and I’m inferring that this is the reason why there are so many Benedictines in the Integral world – they’ve been the initiators of global interreligious dialogue.

Now the question: How to do contemplative living in Western culture?

Initiated dialogue with Sufi’s, who do not  have a monastic tradition (isn’t that interesting? And yet they’re considered highly contemplative).

“Our lopsided culture is “on the verge of a marvelous transformation.”

Evelyn Underhill critiques our culture: “It’s a shallow immanentism,” she writes. And the Dalai Lama has recently stated we need to emphasize service “flowing out of contemplative practice.” A big yes to this!

11:15 We’re now seeing some great pictures of monks of East and West in casual dialogue. Chats at Thomas Merton’s hermitage. So great! Catholic Masses in a Buddhist stupas.

This brings us back to the “Mutual hospitality of dialogue,” one of the big themes in the Benedictine order. I really love this because it takes us back to the theme of the conference. Inter-faith dialogue is not a far step from the Kosmopolitan theme happening here at the Waterfront. Sister Jean remarked that:

“One of the challenges of dialogue is to recognize where there’s an impasse.” – Sister Jean Ranek

“Hospitality as Kosmopolitan.” A big yes to this!

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A good question: How do we enact hospitality with those who don’t want to, or are not open to dialogue? Sister Jean mentioned there is a risk. She tells us about a group of Cistercian Monks who were martyred in trying to do this.

We’re having a group discussion on hospitality in interreligious dialogue.

“How do we help that grow? Be facilitated toward the greater, toward an openness to the unknown. Whether it’s the Sufi tradition or otherwise.” – Neville Kelly

Someone brings up a great point: “Travel is a huge influence in hospitality. Traveling to different places and serving in other countries. It opens you up. Exposes you.”

We have folks here from Canada, LA, NY (myself). Telling stories of our travels.

11:46. Dr. Kelly brings it back to integral theory and the Benedictine order: hospitality is contextualized within the AQAL model. We’re looking at the slides now. St. Benedict’s writings on the Benedictine monastic life are being explored according to the different quadrants: Upper Left and Upper Right so far: on how to work individually in attitude, how to relate to others. Moving down to the Lower Left. This is about the communal aspects especially. “Treating poor people… particularly, in them, Christ is received.”

Wonderful observation that the monastic life is a counter-culture.

“We intentionally live on the margins… not fleeing the world, not engulfed in the world. But interfacing with it. The margin gives some perspective: to stand back, pray and think.”

It is an attempt to affirm another way of life without disengaging with the world.

Great joke: “The Day of Non-Judgement is Here.” Hah!

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Lectio Divina. “This is learning more deeply to pray, and to live the word of God.”

“What we are experiencing today is a revival of the specific daily practices of Lectio Divina… Rooted in a long, long tradition. In the earlier centuries there was a much broader understanding of Lectio Divina. The Abbas of the desert understood this. They understood scripture as a ‘school of prayer.’ They listened to the scriptual admonition: ‘pray without ceasing.’ To them, to pray without ceasing meant to live the word. In order to do this, you have to imbibe it first.” – Sister Jean Ranek

“Lectio divina is the desire to be transformed… “the desire to allow oneself to be challenged and transformed by the fire of the Word of God. The practice of marinating in the word, daily. Contact with the scripture is not a method of prayer but a mystical encounter.”

A person who has encountered and assimilated the “Word” has become a new text. St. Francis says: “preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” You can use anything for this practice, of course, the privilege is the written word. It can also be icons. Sister notes that we’re still “learning” icons in the West. As someone who studied digital culture, I think the newer generations are far more open to icons (see my earlier post on Alan Moore, graphic novels and their magical/esoteric nature).

As a daily practice:

  • Use a passage from the Bible (or elsewhere)
  • Ponder the Word and notice what speaks to me today and touches my heart.
  • Linger with a word or phrase – with no compulsion whatever to finish the passage
  • Allow prayer to arise within me
  • Rest without words or images – in the Presence of God.

“Lexio leads to contemplation.” – Sister Jean

Sister tells us that there is a “cardio-memetic” quality of the scriptures. A living word. It reflects what is in the heart. In Lexio, the words will speak to each of us differently.

Lectio. Meditatio. Oratio. Contemplatio. Read, meditate on the word. Say it. Then deep silence and presence (contemplatio). There’s no order. Just a “gentle oscillation” of these facets.

“What the mind cannot grasp, the will can embrace. The time I spend in contemplative prayer does more good than anything I can actively do for them.”  Beautiful, from Sister Jean.