There are lots of articles out there from spiritual writers and priests that remind us that social distancing is something people choose when they enter a monastery. These articles are meant to normalize the social distancing we are all experiencing these days. They remind us that monks and nuns seek the silence. They thrive by choosing a life of being separate from others. I admit that sometimes I am guilty of pointing to this example of a chosen form of sheltering in place.
But the comfort of this example only goes so far. While I know this is meant to be helpful as the world endured one of the most extreme forms of lock-down, there are reasons why most of us did not choose to become nuns or monks. There are reasons why we enjoy our normal lives. Most of us don’t emulate cloistered religious because we don’t feel the need to pray that much. Most of us cannot imagine living in a cloister. The closest we get to a nun's life is that we might enjoy watching the PBS series Call the Midwife.
But this week I read something that changed my views of monasteries.
Benedict of Nursia lived from 480 - 543 AD. The son of a nobleman, Benedict is thought to have gone to Rome when he was 20 to follow in his father’s footsteps. But he was disillusioned by the big city and left to go out to the countryside. He became a hermit for 3 years and lived in a cave. Then he grew disillusioned with the monastery nearby and wrote a set of guidelines for how to live faithfully.
These rules he came up with were not intended for holy people. Benedict was never a priest himself and what he wanted worked against the dominance of pious clergy in his society.
He developed the idea of intentional for faith beginners, and he hoped to help them find meaning. Originally followers were lay people. Benedict called his first monasteries “schools” or “workshops”.
His advice was, Begin where you are. Be mindful of what is going on around you.
I wonder if the biggest problem with most of us is just adjusting to the slower pace, but as we slow down and the world around us slows down we start to lose some of our anxiety.
One of the things I am enjoying these days is the ability to stop competition. It does not matter how your hair looks because no one can get a haircut.Go easy on yourself. Love your life, right now.
See today as a gift. Thank God for every breath you take.