Reflection: 05-10

I recently discovered that I had not sent in last month's reflection to my abbott nor did I post it here. So, here it is a month late.

Celtic Spirituality (Classics of Western Spirituality)
For this month’s reflection, I turned to Celtic Spirituality, from the ‘Classics of Western Spirituality’ series edited by Oliver Davies and Thomas O’Loughlin. My selection from this wonderful resource is ‘The Rule for Monks by Columbanus’. While I’ve read this entire book before, I didn’t think it would be advisable for a monthly reflection on the whole book so I just picked one of the articles (it was a toss-up between this and Pelagius’ letter).

A little background here is in order. Columbanus was an Irish monk who lived roughly between 540 and 615 CE. His feast day is 23 November. He is said to have founded many monasteries, most notably
Luxeuil in France and Bobbio in Italy. Some scholars have suggested that St Francis stayed at Bobbio for a time and was heavily influenced by the Celtic Christian way of seeing.

One of the things that is most repetitious in the research of Columbanus and his monks is their strict simplicity were even their food often consisted of ‘nothing but forest herbs, berries, and the bark of young trees’. It is this simplicity that is captured in his ‘Rule for Monks’ as collected in
Celtic Spirituality.

In his section
On Obedience, Abbott Columbanus quotes John 12.26, “Whoever serves me, must follow me, and my servant will be with me wherever I am.” So then, the question that comes rushing forward is, ‘Where was Jesus while he was on earth?’ Was he not with the ‘outcasts and sinners’? Was he not with the ‘prostitutes and tax collectors’? In other words, was Jesus not with those who were marginalized and all-but-forgotten in the social and religious world of his time? Undoubtedly yes. So, our question then would be where is Jesus now? I suspect that we will still find him with the ‘outcast and sinners’; with the ‘prostitutes and tax collectors’; with the marginalized and all-but-forgotten in the social and religious world of our time. And this is where we are to be as well if we say we are his followers.

In the section
On Silence, Abbott Columbanus quotes Isaiah 32.17, ‘The product of righteousness will be peace, the effect of righteousness being quiet and security for ever.’ My initial reaction is, ‘How unrighteous I am!’ I have such a long way to go to ‘be peace’. I struggle constantly with irritation. And ‘quiet’ or ‘silence’ is so hard for me. Times of quiet are just that – times. And those times are few and far between.

Of course I could just overlook this because I live in a different time than Columbanus. But this will not do! Isaiah stated that ‘being peace’ was the ‘effect’ or the result of righteousness! That means that it is beyond time and seasons. It is to be manifest in whatever time or season one finds oneself in.
If one is indeed righteous. And, therefore, I most certainly am not.

In his section
On the Choir: Goodness! They sure sang a lot of Psalms! At one point, he wrote, ‘ . . . [More], as I have already said, are always ordained for the night of the Lord’s Day and Sabbath vigil, on which seventy-five are sung individually in the course of one Office’.

I guess I just don’t get it.
Seventy-five Psalms. I feel that three is a lot! I suppose, again, it depends on the time period. We are so much busier than they were. Or, perhaps, distracted is a better term. In other words, let’s put it this way. Suppose someone from another time were to visit us, what would she say is the most important thing to us? Work? Family? Entertainment – whether in the form of sports, music, movies, television, etc.? Eating? What would it be?

Now suppose our time-traveler went to Columbanus’ time, what would she claim was the most important thing to them? Would it be the Psalms? Prayer? The Gospels? Work? Not eating? What would it be?

What I get from this section on the choir (and something I have heard time and time again) is that the churches hymn book was the Psalms. When was the last time we sang or chanted only the Psalms in our worship? What would happen to us if we did this for a week? A month? A year? How would it change us?

In our men’s group, we were challenged one time to read through the Psalms. I don’t know if anyone of us ever did. It has been suggested that we do that after we finish our current course of study. I’m beginning to think it’s a wonderful idea. In fact, one of the men in our group is also in the choir and chants very well. Perhaps I’ll ask him if he would lead us in a chant of a Psalm for those meetings.

St Michael’s Episcopal Church, where I am now attending community worship, the Psalm is chanted. And it’s wonderful! I wonder what seventy-five Psalms would be like?

Concerning the section
On Discernment, Columbanus stated that ‘evil’ is ‘the corruption of the good’ and ‘that which departs from its original goodness and innocence’. Do we find this to be true? Surely we can see that in some situations there is a direct correlation. Sex slaves, pornography, going from one partner to another, the objectification and of people, adultery, etc., are clearly ‘corruptions of the good’ or ‘departures from the original goodness and innocence’ of the expressions (some would say the ultimate expression) of love between partners in a committed, monogamous relationship.

Another example would be the torture and terrorism and slaughter of those who are different – whether that difference is color, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. The deeper one looks it seems that we discriminate others because we don’t really see them as legitimate image-bearers of the Creator.

This could also be seen in environmental concerns – whether that is manifested in what we eat or how we treat the planet. The deeper one looks here we can perceive a skewered view of creation and our responsibilities to it.

But can we think of any ‘evil’ that is not ‘the corruption of the good’? I confess that I can not. I think that the wisdom of the Holy Spirit manifested in St Columbanus is spot on here. However, as with the change of times, we forget the sacredness of all that is around us. What can be more sacred than the kiss of your lover? The laugh of a babe? The play of a calf? The loyalty of a dog? The chant of the Psalms? The reading of the Gospel? The stiffness of a hard day’s work? Nothing, beloved. Nothing.

In section 9,
On Mortification, St Columbanus wrote, ‘monks must everywhere beware of a proud independence...’. This was an epiphany. In a couple of words, St Columbanus stated what I believe is the primary sin of the United States. Perhaps even the West. Far too often in the U.S .we hear the emphasis on being independent, of not needing anyone else.

Yes, beloved, this is a sin. Our Savior makes it clear that we are dependent upon him. ‘I am the vine’, he said, ‘you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.
For apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15.5 Emphasis mine).

And St Paul makes it clear that we are not just dependent on Christ but we are dependent upon each other as well when he wrote that we all make up the mystical body of Christ. ‘The human body has many parts’, he wrote, ‘but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free (and we could add, ‘some are female, some are male, some are gay, and some straight’). But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.’ And later, ‘Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part . . . So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it’ (
1Corinthians 12.12-14, 24-27).

Therefore, both scripture and experience show us that we are not independent beings but dependent beings. It takes all of us working together to more forward. This, in turn, reflects how we see our mission within the wider world. So often in the church, the focus has been on the ‘individual’ but scripture is more concerned about the community. The individual may be singled out but it’s for the purpose of the betterment of the community. Abraham was called so that through him and his family ‘all nations’ would be blessed. Therefore, I believe St Columbanus’ statement here is, once more, spot on.

While the overall Rule of the Monks is quite hard, I believe that St Columbanus gave us some very good instructions that we can adapt in our time. Obviously, there are still things that need to be addressed. We still don’t spend time with those whom society has all but forgotten. We are still too quickly provoked into violence and really don’t like it when things are silent. We still are too quick to judge others as ‘evil’ while ignoring our own falseness. We still discriminate (and worse) people who are different from us. We still don’t see all people as image-bearers of Christ. We still don’t take into consideration our effects on the planet. We still prefer our way of doing things. And we still believe that we don’t need anyone else.

But that is changing. More and more of us are finding ways of implementing God’s Reign in our every day lives. Whether that’s serving at a local soup kitchen, or having inter-faith dialogue at a local pub, or starting a recycling drive in our areas, or becoming a vegetarian, or becoming more involved with social justice issues through our local governments. More and more of us are looking for ways of implementing God’s Reign now through living a simple life in the hectic life around us. And, in the process, encouraging others to join us in the peace-keeping movement that is the Dream of God. True, not all of us are called to be a monk and live an ascetic lifestyle. But we are called to do our best at being Christ for those around us and help in implementing God’s Reign now.

In the Love of the Three in One,



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