I’m off from work this week. Originally I thought I might make it up to the monastery, first time in two years, but I have an online class on Monday night (archdiocesan certification for catechists), my second graders on Saturday, and I didn’t think a mere two full days would address my pressing spiritual needs. So I scheduled a full week for the end of May. “It’ll be fine,” I told myself. “It’ll be prettier. There will still be lambs.”
But I kept these days off. Among the abovementioned pressing spiritual needs is the need to reclaim some modicum of interior silence. Work has been crazy—and arguably crazier for those of us at the lower reaches of the corporate food chain. For my part, I basically work on the wrong end of an upside-down pyramid and, though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies me as a “language worker”, it’s been feeling more like factory work lately, and I find myself remembering odd bits of Karl Marx as I slog through my workday. (A German major in college, at one point I read The Communist Manifesto in the original.)
I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with my free week. I have a bunch of “language work” to do, and sleep in general sounded like a really good idea. Then the other day at Vigils, I had just finished the Invitatory and was heading into the first psalm when I could feel my inner tornado of concerns revving up, my whirl of worried distractions. And then a phrase slipped into the middle of it, cut through it all: “Come now, little man…” St. Anselm of Canterbury is my Benedictine patron/namesake, and this is a phrase from one of my favorite prayers of his, the one with which he opens The Proslogion…
“Come now, little man,
turn aside for a while from your daily employment,
escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts.
Put aside your weighty cares,
let your burdensome distractions wait.
Free yourself for awhile for God
and rest awhile in Him.
Enter the inner chamber of your soul,
shut out everything except God
and that which can help you in seeking Him,
and when you have shut the door, seek Him.
Now, my whole heart, say to God,
‘I seek Your face, Lord, it is Your face I seek.’”
So, listening to my patron (who hasn’t steered me wrong yet), I decided to use this week as an at-home retreat and, typical of my retreats, to dedicate the time to revitalizing—and in some cases, re-establishing—my spiritual discipline. I confess I’ve had mornings so rushed and evenings still so distracted by the events of the day that I’ve ended up mainly praying for God’s patience. While I’ve been part of a lectio group at my parish for several years, now, my personal lectio has become sketchy at best, and I need to renew this most intimate encounter with the Word. (I’m thinking: Galatians.)
And of course I’ll re-read The Rule, or perhaps just focus on a particular aspect of it. My copy just about automatically opens to the chapter on humility at this point, so I may as well take the hint. (Though I think the first hint was in St. Anselm’s “…little man”.) I could easily spend the whole week on the first rung of St. Benedict’s “humility ladder”: “The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes and never forgets it.” I bring communion to a man who talks about the fear of God a lot. But then, this is a man who has not only spent a good deal of his life seeking the face of God, but who also knows he’s relatively close to finally seeing it. I remind him—and myself—that Fear of the Lord is one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and that it isn’t so much quaking-in-your-boots-type fear (though there’s certainly a trace of that) as a healthy sense of one’s creatureliness—or to paraphrase Michael Casey in Truthful Living, his excellent book on humility, the deep acceptance of the fact that God is God and we’re not. It’s the central truth of our relationship with the Divine, and anytime we forget it, the serpent has just slithered back into Eden.
So I’m looking forward to a week of getting back to Benedictine Basics: to find again that place where I fold into the silence and listen for the voice of God; where I can “rest awhile in him”, thank him for making me a little man, and ask only that he make me littler.
You’ll all be in my prayer. Please pray for me as well.