Tag Archives: Cistercian

15 July: An energetic life.

A kneeler at Aberdaron church, Wales, where the poet RS Thomas was parish priest.

In another age, in another life, Thomas Traherne might have made a monk. In another age, in another life, another Thomas found his vocation as a Cistercian monk and writer. That’s how it was beginning to look in 1947 when Merton wrote the following journal entry. The message of the kneeler above contrasts with Traherne’s message in the last two days, ‘The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed’; at least superficially. But Traherne was also counselling the practice of meditation which begins with stillness. How that is achieved depends on the individual to a great extent; the fact that I came to stillness when cutting the grass was not appreciated by all my superiors… Over to Merton, who had chosen, been called to, a life of silence but not necessarily one of stillness.

The Cistercian life is energetic. There are tides of vitality running through the whole community that generate energy even in people who are lazy… We go out to work like a college football team taking the field.

Trappists believe that everything that costs them is God’s will. Anything that makes you suffer is God’s will. If it makes you sweat, it is God’s will. But we have serious doubts about the things which demand no expense of physical energy. Are they really the will of God? Hardly! …

If we want something, we can easily persuade ourselves that what we want is God’s will just as long as it turns out to be difficult to obtain.

Reading the two Thomases together, I wonder that any of us ever find any stillness in modern life. I no longer have access to a big, noisy, green, ride-on mower. But I do have the garden to turn to: news from there tomorrow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

23 April: Happy Birthday to English Trappist Beer.

As we were watching ‘Outside the City’, Nick Hamer’s dvd about the life of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey in Leicestershire, I was struck, among many things, by then-Abbot Erik Varden’s blessing of the new Brewery, on Saint George’s Day 2018. Here is an extract.

To abandon something one has always done (dairy farming) for something one knows nothing about is never easy. Today we can justly give thanks that this new industry has been established and rests on firm foundations. One of the fascinating things about beer, is that this (potentially) sophisticated beverage is made of the simplest ingredients. By being refined to manifest their choicest qualities; by being brought together in a favourable environment; by mingling their properties and so revealing fresh potential; by being carefully stored and matured, the humble malt, hops, yeast, and water are spirit-filled and bring forth something new, something nurturing and good, that brings joy to those who share it. Considered in this perspective, the brewery provides us with a parable for our monastic life, with the Lord as virtuoso brewmaster. The Scriptures favour wine as an image of the Gospel – but that is culturally conditioned; beer, it seems to me, is a much neglected theological symbol. 

We thoroughly recommend both the beer and the dvd!

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', Mission, PLaces

14 January: Outside the City, Nick Hamer’s film about the life of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey.

Outside the City is the result of a year spent with the community of Mount Saint Bernard’s Cistercian Abbey in Leicestershire, England. The monks speak about the monastic vocation which some of them have followed for half a century and more. We witness the decision-making process that resulted in the first English Trappist Beer, Tynt Meadow, being perfected, brewed and brought to sale, with the help of a Dutch beer consultant. He reiterated what I was told in a small brewery in Amsterdam: the brewing is the fun bit; cleaning, cleaning, cleaning is 95% of the task, and indispensable.

The brewery will be the main source of income for the community, but there are other forms of work, such as pottery, welcoming guests, housework, and care of the elderly and infirm monks. The main work of the monks – the Opus Dei, God’s work – is prayer: the Eucharist, the Divine Office, and personal prayer.

There were two parallel streams: the presence of God and the presence to oneself: monks spoke of God as unknowable, not within human understanding, but certainly knowing and loving each one of us; therefore there is a mission to pray on behalf those of those of us who do not have time for prayer, or even time for God at all.

Death was spoken of in a very matter-of-fact manner, a presence in the lives of older monks at least, and we witness the last rites of two of them. ‘My friends are all here in the monastery’, one of them had said, but the crowd that gathered for his funeral witnessed otherwise. The monastery may be outside the city, but the city makes its way there.

Near another city, Bamenda, on another continent, Africa, Mount Saint Bernard’s has a daughter house, built to the design of one of the Leicestershire monks. We follow Abbot Erik there on his official visitation. Here the dairy farm is thriving and we witness the birth of a heifer calf, an occasion of rejoicing. As at Mount St Bernard’s, the community is self-supporting.

The film ends at the  Easter Vigil. A tug at the throat to see the congregation receiving the chalice, and not a mask in sight! Let’s pray that we’ll see the return of the former and the discarding of the latter before this year is too old. In the meantime, with all these evenings when we cannot go to the cinema or anywhere else, follow the link above to buy the dvd or rent the film on-line.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, Mission, PLaces, Reviews

10 January: Holes of hope

The Baptism of our Lord: a cold shock to his system!

Father Tom Herbst describes winter mornings facing the sea at Margate in this previous post from Advent time. I don’t think many baptisms happen there in January, but the sacrament is an assertion of trust in the loving God, either personally or on a child’s behalf. Jesus trusted that this moment was crucial for his growing into the One mature human, Son of God, Son of Man.

Above we see a grey sky in the Polish Tatra mountains, with light breaking through the clouds. Today Sister Hanne-Maria Berentsen OCSO shares a reflection on January grey skies over the fjord near her monastery in Norway. It comes from Northern Light, a book I shall return to.

Pope John Paul II wrote of celebrating the Eucharist ‘on the altar of the world.’ Perhaps we can give some thought to the meaning of Water, in sky, river, lake and sea, and accept a daily ‘baptism in the font of the world’ – we are within the water cycle in this life – rain, river, sea, cloud – but called to put out into deep water, like Peter and the Apostles, trusting in the loving God.

There is much pain needed to make us fully human and Christ-like … if you feel down, you can look up, look out, go out, and receive the vast sky above and around you, finding again your trust in the loving God who created all this. Even on a grey, stormy day, you can find blue spots between the clouds, holes of hope.

from Northern Light by the Cistercian Nuns of Tautra Mariakloster, Collegeville Minnesota, Liturgical Press, p4.

We will review Northern Light after re-reading it, or should I say, reading it properly! More from Cistercians later this week.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', PLaces, winter

9 November, Relics XXV: Borrow’s blind spot

Strata Florida as seen a few years before Borrow’s visit.

George Borrow on his mid-19th Century tour of Wales has reached Strata Florida Abbey, where the grave of the mediaeval bard Daffyd Ap Gwilym, is thought to lie.

Who knows, said I, but this is the tree that was planted over Ab Gwilym’s grave, and to which Gruffyd Gryg wrote an ode?  I looked at it attentively, and … relying on the possibility of its being the sacred tree, I behaved just as I should have done had I been quite certain of the fact: Taking off my hat I knelt down and kissed its root, repeating lines from Gruffydd Gryg, with which I blended some of my own in order to accommodate what I said to circumstances:

“O tree of yew, which here I spy,
By Ystrad Flur’s blest monast’ry,
Beneath thee lies, by cold Death bound,
The tongue for sweetness once renown’d.
Better for thee thy boughs to wave,
Though scath’d, above Ab Gwilym’s grave,
Than stand in pristine glory drest
Where some ignobler bard doth rest.”

A man came up attended by a large dog.  “Good evening,” said I to him in Welsh. “Good evening, gentleman,” said he in the same language. “Are you the farmer?” “Yes!  I farm the greater part of the Strath.” “I suppose the land is very good here?” “Why do you suppose so?” “Because the monks built their house here in the old time, and the monks never built their houses except on good land.” “Well, I must say the land is good; indeed I do not think there is any so good in Shire Aberteifi.” “Do many people come to see the monastery?” Farmer.—Yes! many gentlefolk come to see it in the summer time. Myself.—It is a poor place now. Farmer.—Very poor, I wonder any gentlefolks come to look at it. Myself.—It was a wonderful place once; you merely see the ruins of it now.  It was pulled down at the Reformation. Farmer.—Why was it pulled down then? Myself.—Because it was a house of idolatry to which people used to resort by hundreds to worship images, down on their knees before stocks and stones, worshipping them, kissing them and repeating pennillion to them. Farmer.—What fools!  How thankful I am that I live in wiser days.  If such things were going on in the old Monachlog it was high time to pull it down. Myself.—What kind of a rent do you pay for your land? Farmer.—O, rather a stiffish one. Myself.—Two pound an acre? Farmer.—Two pound an acre!  I wish I paid no more. Myself.—Well!  I think that would be quite enough.  In the time of the old monastery you might have had the land at two shillings an acre. Farmer.—Might I?  Then those couldn’t have been such bad times, after all. Myself.—I beg your pardon!  They were horrible times—times in which there were monks and friars and graven images, which people kissed and worshipped and sang pennillion to.  Better pay three pounds an acre and live on crusts and water in the present enlightened days than pay two shillings an acre and sit down to beef and ale three times a day in the old superstitious times. Farmer.—Well, I scarcely know what to say to that.”

From Wild Wales

Image in public domain via Wkipedia.

Leave a comment

Filed under Autumn, Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, PLaces, poetry

28 May. Going Viral XXXVII: Where? In me. Corona virus and sin.

SPB sent us a link to tis talk given by Fr Mark Scott to the Cistercian Community at New Mellary Abbey, Iowa, USA. This is a short extract from a thought provoking talk; do follow the ink and read it all. It may help understand Romans as well as the virus!

There may be a virus sitting there on the fork or on the elevator button or on the door handle, and if it just stays there it is harmless. It cannot move on its own, it doesn’t reproduce on its own or through mating, it doesn’t do anything. A virus becomes active when it has something like us to enter and attach to … your cell structure has fully to cooperate with the virus so that, in biblical language, the two almost become one, and baby viruses are born. And then the virus goes viral within you and all around the world …

I think of what Saint Paul says about sin “finding an opportunity in the commandment” and so “producing every kind” of sin of the same genus and species. Like a virus, “apart from the Law sin is dead . . . but when the commandment came sin became alive” (Rom 7:8, 9). Where? “In me.”

Leave a comment

Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, PLaces

8 March, Desert XI: Fear 4.

mercy.ruin

Thomas Merton is living through the hotter part of the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis would blow up a year later; he had cause to be afraid. In the days before this diary entry,* bombers had been flying low over the Monastery of Gethsemane, his home. Thinking about US and world politics aroused:

… my own fear, my own desperate desire to survive, even if only as a voice uttering an angry protest, while the waters of death close over the whole continent.

Why am I so willing to believe that the country will be destroyed? It is certainly possible, and in some sense it may even be likely. But this is a case where, in spite of evidence, one must continue to hope. One must not give in to defeatism and despair, just as one must hope for life in a mortal illness which has been declared incurable.

This is the point. This weakness and petulancy, rooted in egoism. 

Defeatism and despair are rooted in egoism, and they are not necessarily good survival tactics. Let us ask the Lord for a taste of the perfect love that casts out fear and despair

Thomas Merton, Turning towards the World, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p162.

Image from CD.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent, PLaces

7 December: Not a pious pastime.

fisc.window2

I have been reading Abbot Erik Varden’s new book ‘The Shattering of Loneliness, on Christian Rememrance’, and will review it in the next few months. I wanted to share this insight as we come towards Christmas. It follows nicely from Pope Benedict’s ‘sober inebriation’ remark about music, which certainly sustained his spiritual life. On p129.

The Spiritual Life is not, cannot be, a pious pastime. It is premised on a total surrender to the promise and demands of the Gospel. it bears the imprint of the Cross and is charged with the spirit of the risen Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

September 3: Algeria VII: Testament of Dom Christian

This is a long post, but I could not see how to shorten the Last Testament of Christian de Cherge, the martyred Prior of Notre Dame d’Atlas. Every word counts. Islam is not islamism. Muslims are God’s children, our sisters and brothers.

2005-04-10 16.23.30

Window at Llanthony, Brecon, Wales. 

When an “A-Dieu” takes on a face.

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—

that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf

all the foreigners living in Algeria,

I would like my community, my Church, my family,

to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.

I ask them to accept that the Sole Master of all life

was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

I ask them to pray for me—

for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?

I ask them to be able to link this death with the many other deaths which were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other.

Nor any less value.

In any case it has not the innocence of childhood.

I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil

which seems, alas, to prevail in the world,

even in that which would strike me blindly.

I should like, when the time comes, to have the moment of lucidity

which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God

and of my fellow human beings,

and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death.

It seems to me important to state this.

I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice

if the people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder.

To owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be,

would be too high a price to pay for what will, perhaps, be called, the “grace of martyrdom,”

especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on Algerians indiscriminately.

I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain islamism encourages.

It is too easy to salve one’s conscience

by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received from it,

finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel,

learnt at my mother’s knee, my very first Church,

already in Algeria itself, in the respect of believing Muslims.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify

those who hastily judged me naive, or idealistic:

“Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!”

But these people must realise that my avid curiosity will then be satisfied.

This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—

immerse my gaze in that of the Father,

and contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them,

all shining with the glory of Christ,

the fruit of His Passion, and filled with the Gift of the Spirit,

whose secret joy will always be to establish communion

and to refashion the likeness, playfully delighting in the differences.

For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,

I thank God who seems to have willed it entirely

for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything.

In this thank you, which sums up my whole life to this moment,

I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,

and you, my friends of this place,

along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,

the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And also you, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing.

Yes, I also say this Thank You and this A-Dieu to you, in whom I see the face of God.

And may we find each other, happy good thieves, in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen. (In sha ‘Allah).

Algiers, December 1, 1993—Tibhirine, January 1, 1994.

Christian.

Testament of Dom Christian

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

30 August: Algeria III: Muslim martyrs for their Christian brothers.

 

The great doors to the ancient Abbey of St Maurice in Switzerland, celebrating its 1500th year in 2015, bear the names of Christian martyrs. There are the Apostles; there are the Africans of the Theban Legion, led by Maurice himself, martyred on this spot. Becket and Boniface represent England.

door st Maurice

From Saint Maurice’s home continent of Africa, among the martyrs of Algeria, next to the name of Bishop Pierre Claverie we read that of Mohamed Bouchikhi, his driver, assassinated with him. After them come the monks (moines) of Notre Dame d’Atlas at Tibhirine. Christian de Chergé, martyred Prior of the monastery, told how his friend, an Algerian policeman also named Mohamed, had been killed after intervening to protect him from aggressors in the street.

These two Mohameds gave their lives for their Christian friends – as de Chergé said, the greatest token of love a man could give. They accepted the gift of quiet presence and service offered by the Church in post-Colonial Algeria. Countless other Muslims continue to do so and to make Christians welcome in their communities.

MMB.

Monastery of Notre Dame d’Atlas, Tibhirine: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monastere_de_tibhirine.jpg by Gamecult

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections