Friday, March 12, 2010

Modern Asceticism

With thanks to Rev. Everett Hobbs

St Benedict believed that the monastic observance is a continuous Lent: at all times the lifestyle of a monastic ought to have a Lenten quality. Lent was a season of joy and celebration for Benedict. He admonished his followers to fulfill their Lenten observances with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Our observance is in a ready and spontaneous spirit of joyful live.
Benedict was refreshingly gentle with his followers, calling for a focused purity of observance. He was concerned that our Lenten journey should come from the heart and not merely external observances. Benedict tells us to deny our body some food , some drink, some sleep, some chatter, some joking, and let us await Holy Easter with the joy of spiritual desire. Benedict believed that Lent led to a deepened spirituality maturity. Benedictine spirituality is earthy, embodied, and genuine; our Lent must be the same. We must be authentic in our pilgrimage through Lent, the Tridum and resurrection.
Most of my adult life I wrestled with a sense of inadequacy at observing the call to practices of asceticism There were periodic successes but I mostly failed at fasting and self-denial. I was making attempts, with the best on intentions, on my own strength. Rather than listening to God for guidance, I defined asceticism and then attempted to follow my own program... I finally came to realize that God hands us our asceticism through the normal circumstances of everyday life. We only need to attentive to these opportunities. For many of us, asceticism might include hours spent looking after children, taking time to be present to aging parents or someone hurting, and attending countless meetings. Speaking kindly when we'd rather speak a sharp word.... and making healthy eating and exercise choices are all examples of ways we are called to an asceticism that is God-directed and opens our heart towards the divine...
With authentic asceticism, God awakens us to our attitudes, motives, passions, desires, and lifestyle. This requires prayerful discernment around where the Image of Christ is expressed and dwells in our life. This also entails the recognition of what is not Christ. Asceticism is a way of letting go of all that burdens and hinders our growing close to Jesus.For example, irritations are an opportunity for ascetical observance and deepening self-awareness. When we are irritated, we have an opportunity to listen within and learn what the dynamic is and how we are called to let something go... Meetings are an opportunity for ascetical practice...Carefully preparing in advance... Being fully present, mentally and emotionally...
An authentic asceticism exposes our interior attachments, addictions, compulsions, and dependencies. This asceticism also gives us the strength to face our little idols and let go of them... An authentic asceticism challenges us to live in vulnerability and to courageously reveal ourselves to our family, friends and community...

-Laura Swan Engaging Benedict

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