"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way."
The search for God is a very intimate enterprise. It is at the core of every longing in the human heart. It is the search for ultimate love, for total belonging, for the meaningful life.
It is our attempt to live life and find it worthwhile, to come to see the presence of God under all the phantoms and shadows -- beyond all the illusions of life -- and find it enough.
But the search depends, at least in part, on the complex of energies within us that we bring to the challenges of this seeking. We do not all hear the same tones at the same volume, or see the same visions in the same colors, or seek the same goods of life in the same way.
The search for God depends, then, on choosing the spiritual path most suited to our own spiritual temper and character. For some seekers, it is in withdrawal from society or by immersion in nature that God is most present. For others, the face of God shows most clearly in the face of the poor, or is felt most keenly through the support of those with whom they share a common spiritual regimen.
For many, it is a bit of both, a balance of community, contemplation and commitment to the people of God. It is the search to belong to a group of fellow travelers who will hold us up when we fall, and urge us on to greater heights when we are afraid to strain for more.
These are the seekers who are looking for others who seek what they seek, who care about what they care about, and who set out with them to make life richer and the world better than they know they could ever do alone.
But whatever the nature of a seeker's lifestyle, the search for God depends, as well, on the spiritual maturity it takes to move from one level of spiritual insight to another -- rather than cling to the spiritual satisfaction that comes with earlier, less demanding, practices. The search for God depends on the desire to grow to full stature as a spiritual adult, to come to know the God who is as present in darkness as in light.
It depends on the willingness to let God lead us through the deserts of a lifetime, along routes we would not go, into the Promised Land of our own lives.
Most of all, the search for God depends on fidelity to the demands of the search itself. It is the constancy of commitment which we bring to the spiritual path that prepares us to recognize and receive the fullness of it.
There is, as a result, more than one way to go about the journey to God.
We may seek God alone, in the silence of our own hearts, where our attention is centered in a keen and conscious way on developing an ear for the leavening penetration in our lives by the mind and Word of God. This is an extremely private and individual spirituality that emphasizes personal prayer and contemplation of the presence of God in life.
But it is not the only way to God and, in fact, not the most common way.
Another kind of journey to God leads us to seek God with others in a covenantal common life, whereby the physical joining of our lives together we become a daily witness to create in the world a community of strangers bound together by the will of God.
In our time, in a society that is both mobile and connected at the same time, there is still another possible way to make the journey to God: in a Monastery of the Heart.
Here we choose to seek God in step with others, even though not always in common with others -- each of us on an apparently separate path and yet all of us in veritable community with one another on the way -- as lifelines, as mentors, as guides, as models, as brothers and sisters in whose loving company we choose to make our common journey to God.
The Rule of Benedict recognizes the major differences among seekers' paths and alerts us as well to the subtle distinctions among them, so that we can begin our own spiritual journey aware of the complex character of each separate lifestyle and prepared to bring our selves to the way best suited to the enterprise for us.
Going the road alone, for instance -- developing a solitary spiritual discipline -- is a rare but well-worn tradition of spiritual figures both known and unknown. Those who go this road to God, Benedict tells us, have come to a point in the spiritual life where, already well-formed in a proven and established monastic tradition, they move beyond the structures which maintain it in order to go deeply into the struggle with the self -- both physically and mentally -- that comes with solitude.
These seekers, Benedict says, "Have passed beyond the first fervor of monastic life ... They have built up their strength and go to the single combat of the desert. Self-reliant now, they are ready with God's help to grapple single-handed..."
Theirs is the path that strips away the common supports of life -- the companionship of a partner, the counsel of others, the strength of a community, the traditions of the group -- and throws them on the designs of the Spirit and deep, deep concentration on God alone.
These seekers feel the impulse of the God within. They give their lives to the God who beckons them inward, sure that the One who calls them to such a life will also guide them through it -- alone but not lonely.
The major concern with this lifestyle is the human tendency to turn in on ourselves and to forget our obligation to build up the entire human community. "Whose feet," St. Basil asks, "will the hermit wash?"
In its stead, Benedict says simply, are those who live immersed in a community, accountable to its standards, cemented in its values, and responsible for making the human community ever more human, always more of a community.
In whichever of the lifestyles we find ourselves -- the spiritually solitary of any stage of life, the intentional living groups of every size, the networks of similarly committed individuals whose community life is stable but not necessarily daily -- we are on tried and true pathways to God.
We are all seekers of the God who is here but invisible to the blind eye; who calls to us but is unheard by those who do not listen; who touches our lives wherever we are, but is unfelt by those whose hearts are closed to the presence of God -- who is everywhere, in everyone, at all times.
When we seek to wed all three lifestyles in our own time -- solitary, intentional and communal -- we seek to be in a Monastery of the Heart.
Then our Rule is this one. Our spiritual guide is the Word of God. Our formative community is with those of one heart with whom we join on this way in a Monastery of the Heart -- to find the God who emerges with inexorable fidelity in human form.
Excerpted from 'The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life.'
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