As Julianne explained in previous posts, she and I found Jo Gilbert’s seminar on Koinonia community at the Celebrate conference interesting in the light of previous discussion in our group. Since then I’ve also been exploring ideas around community and the Benedictine rule. The website of the Lay Community of St. Benedict: www.laybenedictines.org has been helpful with this. Although the monastic vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life are an inspiration to the Lay Community of St. Benedict, because they are not a religious order they don’t ask members to take formal vows. Members do, however, embrace this promise:
“In response to the call of Christ we seek to live
holy communion, create holy space and offer holy service.”
This promise has lodged itself in my imagination and I keep returning to it. There have been a couple of further things which have connected to these words in my thinking and praying. First from a film and then a book, which as I continued reading linked with each other in quite an unexpected way.
The film I watched was the moving Of Gods and Men which tells the true story of a community of Cistercian monks living in the Atlas mountains in Algeria. After years of faithfulness to the monastic rhythm of work and prayer, and of harmonious and fruitful co-existence with ordinary Algerian Muslims- in 1996 Christian de Chergé and six of his community were abducted and eventually killed by an armed Islamic group. For some time before this they had recognised the very real threat of death but chosen not to leave. The film conveys well that instead, during this time, they deepened their sense of communion; with God, each other and their Muslim neighbours.
The book I’ve been reading is Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life by Benedictine Abbot Christopher Jamison. In it he explores how to establish inner sanctuary built more by mind and heart than in external space. In the last chapter he refers to the story recounted in the film and I discovered that he has been able to articulate something else very compelling revealed by the film which I had been unable to put into words:
‘What I believe the Atlas Martyrs bring to the [idea of creating inner] sanctuary… is the need for an altar to be built there. An altar is a place for making offerings to God and even for offering life itself to God. In return God blesses the one who makes the offering and this reciprocal process is called sacrifice. The origin of ‘sacrifice’ is the Latin sacrum facere – ‘to make holy.’…when anybody finds sanctuary they will also find an altar of sacrifice. None of us lives or dies for our own sake; finding sanctuary is also finding out what God is asking of us… a vocation to love others in a way that is unique to each of us. So at the heart of the sanctuary we build an altar in order to give and receive love, which is at the heart of true religion.’
As we continue to explore the future for our group it seems to me that the unique way each of us is asked by God to give and receive love is foundational. Some of our most meaningful gathered times have seen the beginnings of sharing this with each other and discovering a collective sense of what God is asking of us. We each carry a story of discovering sanctuary and the sacrifice and service which goes with that. I have valued these times together and the sense that they are leading to the continued unfolding of a clearer shared vocation to love others in a way distinct to our community.
The promise embraced by the Lay Benedictines adds something after “to live holy communion, create holy space, and offer holy service.” It goes on to say, “in the ways in which my circumstances allow.” As I’ve been wondering in what ways my circumstances could allow me to do this, I thought it worth sharing as a helpful question for us all.