I staggered through my house that morning, knowing I was out of coffee. I took multiple trips around the house looking for my shoes, finally settled for outrageously large climbing boots, then took multiple trips looking for my keys. I finally jumped on my motorcycle—adrenaline is a good substitute for endorphins when you get older—and broke many laws getting to the local caffeine clinic. Upon arriving I had the sinking realization that my man-purse was not in my backpack. At this point all my training as a contemplative was out the window.
Benedict instructed that a novice's street clothes should be kept. Every morning for the rest of his life, the monk confronted two habits.
Deo gratias. That’s what the sign in my office says. It’s not fancy, just two words laser-printed on office paper and tacked up over the computer monitor so I can read it dozens of times a day. The phrase—which means “Thanks be to God”—is the traditional Benedictine greeting that monks offer visitors.
What is it about Western culture that makes it so difficult to taste God? Why would we rather prove propositions than experience the holy?
The April 4 issue of the Century offers Ruth Burrows's witness to her life as a contemplative Carmelite; it also includes an homage to a community of students shaped by their experience with Trappist monks, which in turn shaped Faith Matters writer Stephanie Paulsell in her faith and thinking. Yet Carmelite, Benedictine, Trappist and other monastic communities find themselves in a precarious place these days, with many of them closed or closing. Must we lose these Catholic (and Protestant) communities before we realize that they are a profound presence to those of us out wandering in the world?