Monday, September 17, 2018

Grief and The Monastic Life

Many things can happen over the course of our lives that can cause us grief. The loss of a loved one, the end of a romantic relationship, or drastic changes in our lives are all things that likely have grief attached to them.

So how does the modern day monastic process grief in a way that is conducive to one’s mental health, as well as being able to move beyond grief to a place of joy?

Let’s start with the most basic element of a monastic life, prayer. A solid prayer practice is the cornerstone of any monastic observance. If we are rooted in the practice of prayer, we have a stable foundation which allows us to explore and process our emotions while simultaneously turning them over to our higher power for healing. 

Another practice which can help a monastic move through grief is meditation. The quieting of our scattered minds allows us to observe and identify muddled feelings and emotions, and to name the things that may be burued beneath anger, sadness and confusion.

One practice that I can not stress enough for dealing with grief is forgiveness. A monastic ought to readily work toward forgiveness whenever possible. Harboring resentments only serves to hold us back from the work of learning to live in love; it can also make us extremely bitter and cause divisive behaviors to take root in our lives. Working toward forgiveness means that we choose to be merciful so that we can know peace.

Finally, honesty is key when taking on the process of moving through grief. Being honest with ourselves is good form, but it also allows us to see things as they are and not as we want them to be. Honesty with others allows us to reach out for help when it is needed, and shows that we are worthy of trust and honesty from others. 

When these things are combined as part of one’s daily monastic practice, the way through change and grief can become plainly clear. It is my hope that each of you would consider these practices as essential to your monastic expression not simply because they make for a good roadmap through difficult emotions, but because they point the way to love, which the world needs more of.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nature and Soul Care

For me, there is something healing about nature. I went camping recently for the first time in many years and I came back a new person.

Being quiet and enjoying the sounds of nature, I could hear more clearly the things that my soul was crying out for. I spent time bonding with my dog, swimming in a hot spring, relaxing by the fire and sleeping under the stars (in my tent). All of these things were healing for me, and I am grateful for the blessings that nature has bestowed upon me.

The natural beauty of the woods is also healing for me. The wild animals going about their business, picking wild huckleberries, enjoying an afternoon nap and staying up into the night to visit with family around the fire all made room for me to process the feelings that I am experiencing, and allowed me to move through some of them with ease.

Nature also allowed me to see and love myself as I am. The sense of peace that can be found in the wilderness is amazing. I highly recommend taking some time out to experience the blessings of nature and the peace that it’s quietness brings.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Humility and Self Confidence 

There is a big difference between humility and putting oneself down. Humility asks us to recognize that we are reliant on one another and on our higher power for our social and spiritual wellbeing. It also asks us to view ourselves as stewards of the world around us as well as the people in our lives.

We must take great care not to confuse humility and feelings of worthlessness or being less than another; we are all worthy of dignity, love and respect. This is not haughtiness, rather it is a healthy form of self confidence.

Humility requires gratitude and honest self examination. Knowing in one’s heart that each of us are servants and stewards of the world around us and the people in our lives while maintaining healthy boundaries and self-confidence can be tricky. It may help to remember that each one of us are the beloved children of our Creator and recognizing our talents without being grandiose or boastful are great ways to both have healthy humility and healthy self-confidence.

It is my belief that in order for healthy humility to flourish, each of us must work to cultivate charity, love, self-examination and self-acceptance. All of these things pave the way for a humility that is neither self-depreciating or attention seeking. Both of these things represent false humility and must be diligently guarded against.

In closing I would ask each of you to examine honestly your relationship with humility. There is always room for improvement in this department and by having a healthy kind of humility, we improve the wold around us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Gratitude and Joy

One of the core practices of any monastic life is that of gratitude. The regular practice of taking inventory of and recognizing all that we have to be grateful for is one of the direct causes of a deep and abiding joy in our lives.

The monastic practice of gratitude is not just about giving thanks for all that is going right in the life of the monastic. Things such as change, emotion and life experience are all causes for the monastic to give thanks, but these are not always positive things. Change can be painful, emotions can be uncomfortable and life experiences that shape who we are can be troublesome. Giving thanks for both good and happy things as well as difficult things is a discipline that takes time to master, just as any monastic discipline takes time to accomplish effectively.

On the front page of the OES website is a video from TED concerning joy and gratitude. The monk, David Steindl-Rast lists a few things that mark what we ought to be grateful for, and the thing that sticks out for me is that anything that I didn't earn is something I ought to be grateful for (this covers a great many things in my life).

So, dear readers, I encourage you to take stock of all the things in your life that you have to be grateful for. Take time out of your day to inventory and then give thanks for what you believe is a gift, even for menial things like the meals you eat. You may find that over time, you are more joyful by default.

If you'd like to watch the video about joy and gratitude, it can be found under our "Featured Faith Talks" section on the homepage at

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Only Constants 

To the untrained eye, the monastic life seems full of constant, unchanging things. The cycle of "pray, eat, work" is a visible anchor to every monastic as is one’s unchanging day to day wear, if one chooses to wear the monastic habit.

But, if you were to metaphorically peel back the outer layers as if you were peeling an onion, the only real constants in a sincerely lived monastic life are God and change.

Each of us is called daily, through our prayer and work, to change and to grow both in spirit and in character, into the person that our Creator intended us to be. This often means venturing outside of our comfort zones into new and uncharted territory, to a place where vulnerability and uncertainty reign supreme.
Even as I write this, change is in full force in my life. I’m in the process of moving from the place that has served as my hermitage for over three years, to a place I am familiar with but do not consider my home. My long term relationship is taking its dying breaths and I will be taking on a vow that I have not professed since 2006 - the vow of celibacy.

I’m inclined to think that my Creator has life lessons in store for me. That despite my best efforts to resist growing in the direction I am going, the Spirit has found a way, yet again, to turn things on their head and to instruct my heart in things yet unlearned.

I fully intend to approach this new phase of my life with curiosity and open-mindedness, in hopes that these attitudes will make the lessons I am due to learn as painless as possible. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

From Two Years Ago Today

The tiniest hermit:

I see my own prayers as small on the grand scale of the prayers that fall on the ears of God. Tiny chirps from a speck of dust.

Yet, I know they are heard, because they are answered. Maybe not on the schedule I wish them to be, but all of them are eventually answered.

It is not for this selfish reason that I pray, although I know that God, in It's grace hears my tiny prayers, but that I might through prayer ease a tiny amount of another's suffering; lift a broken soul, comfort an aching heart or maybe even change a life for the better.

The thought of all of this imparts to me the smallest glimpse the sweetest joy of union with my God, if only for a single, tiny moment.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Holy Observance

Lent and Advent are my favorite liturgical seasons. Lent more so because of its message of hope in the mercy of God, Who is loving and merciful to any who would ask.

I do not "give up" things for Lent; I take on new practices such as more prayer, acting with a stricter decorum, and doing more kindness for others. The things I do my best to abstain from are anger, jealousy (which is a huge stumbling block for me), and bitterness.

This year my goal for Lent is to deepen my monastic practice. I have taken on an extra daily prayer office which is done in silence in the middle of the night. By doing so I hope to gain a deeper reverence for my own monastic practice, as well as to join those monks and nuns who are more austere in their communal practices of prayer.

I have also taken on more solitude, in hopes that the silence I experience will lead me closer to the heart of the Creator, also known as Carmel, so that I might find the deep and resounding joy that many others have experienced in this way. As I mentioned in an earlier post, loneliness can be transformed into holy solitude through prayer and meditation, and if we have faith in a Divine Being, we are never truly alone.

I share all of this with you, dear readers, so that you might also find hope during this season the spiritual desert. Be glad and give thanks for even the smallest things in your life, for gratitude leads to joy.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Strange Set of Vows

The community to which I belong is bound by three vows: Simplicity, Listening and Stewardship. These are not the traditional monastic vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, but are important to our community in the same way that the more traditional vows are honored by other monastic orders.

Our vow of listening begins and ends in being able to observe silence and holy solitude. This vow dictates that we listen for the will of our Creator in our lives, that we listen to our own consciences, and that we listen earnestly to those who are in need of a friendly ear.

The last part of this vow is especially important to us. Being able to listen with sincerity instead of simply remaining silent in wait for our turn to speak is counter-cultural in this day and age. Authentically hearing someone who is in distress builds trust between those involved in the conversation, and it can alleviate suffering in a small way. The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is "listen", and I believe that this is no accident. The act of listening is a good and holy thing for all monastics as well as secular people, and is largely a lost art in the age of smart phones and "me, my, I" attitudes.

The vow of simplicity is similar to the vow of poverty, however I feel is it a little more practical for a dispersed community. When our homes become our hermitages, we go through a process of simplifying our lives in order that we may focus on prayer and action rather than things. We keep what is practical for our day to day needs, but we declutter things that are not needed such as a large amount of secular clothing for those that choose to wear the monastic habit. When our environments are free from clutter, we are able to focus our attention to prayer, meditation, or service to others rather than objects which distract us from our work as monastics.

The vow of stewardship is one that is a bit more complicated. This vow dictates that we care for the people in our lives, our personal health, and the environment in which we live. Actions such as reducing the amount of garbage we generate is one example; caring for a sick friend or relative is another. Stewardship keeps us accountable for our actions or for inaction, and demands that we act with care for ourselves, our neighbors, and our world.

Lastly, there is an unspoken custom of obedience in the community to which I belong. This means obedience to our Creator, to our Abbot and to our consciences. While obedience is not a vow in and of itself, it is a monastic discipline that has been around as long as there have been monks and nuns.

For example, in "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers", there is a tale of an Abbot who tells one of his monks to go and water a dead branch. The monk does so day after day, and eventually the branch bears fruit, which the monk brings back to share with his fellow monks. The Abbot invites them to eat it by saying "come and eat the fruit of obedience".

We do not blindly follow the orders of a controlling overlord. We rely heavily on the practice of discernment and community dialogue. Fairness is an important factor when the Abbot makes a decision to be followed. The same can not be said for the will of our creator and our own consciences; there is very little gray area involving obedience in these ways.

I invite you to reflect on how these vows might impact your life were you to profess them, and to comment below with your findings.