Holy Cross Monks on Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The Anglican Order of the Holy Cross has published Holy Cross News 2011-2012 which is entirely dedicated to prayer, as seen from the perspective of several of the community's monks.    I include three excerpts.  Nicholas Radelmiller and  Andrew Colquhoun talk about how prayer affects them in very personal terms.  Adam McCoy presents a more scholarly essay aiming to reinterpret the spirituality of Evagrius Ponticus in contemporary terms.  (The newsletter is apparently unavailable online but can probably be obtained by contacting one of the monasteries).


Nicholas Radelmiller:  The Divine Office:  Food for the Soul
...A principal value is that [the Office] is not dependent upon my emotional state, desire to pray, nor often on my effort.  Instead it is a format or activity into which I insert myself on a regular basis and which supports me in prayer.  Sometimes I greatly look forward to praying the Office.  Other times I am not much interested.  Still the Divine Office happens, prayer is offered, and often it is a rich experience of God.  Sometimes it seems to be a kind of divine conversation in which I am invited to participate. 

...If, for some reason, I am away from the celebration of the Office I find I miss it.  Occasionally if I am in a bad mood it seems to take forever to get through one Office.  Occasionally an Office provides a vivid glimpse of glory.

The Divine Office is also known as the "Work of God" or "Opus Dei".  After some years I think it is called this because God does most of the work.  Benedict was so right when he said that nothing should be preferred to the work of God. 

Andrew Colquhoun:  Prayer Can Get Old
...Then I started getting old.  Prayer changed.  I thought I was in trouble with my faith but that wasn't so.  I believed and trusted more than I ever had.  I just found that formal ways of prayer were few and far between.  Things between me and God were more familiar than distant.  Praying has become quieter and without drama.

I remarked to someone that I had lost my passion.  She retorted that that seemed appropriate to her.  Passion in old age is less sweaty, more even.  I imagine myself on one side of the fireplace and God on the other.  Both of us sitting quietly, not having to say much but delighting in one another's presence, in love without drama.  It feels good!

I still love to pray the office.  I love lectio.  I have worn out rosaries.  And every now and then I lose it with God and act like the child I feel.  With great love, God waits for me to come back to the fire and the intimacy and I find the love has deepened.

Adam McCoy:  Evagrius and Me
...We do not believe in the four humors as a basis of understanding how the body and mind interact.  Rather, we have come to believe that the mind functions best when the body functions well.  We do not give the name "demon" to external mental forces, but we know they exist.  Advertising, propaganda, music and entertainment, reading and conversation all stimulate our desires and passions.  We recognize that our own thought need management, but we have very different understandings of how they work, through psychology and through understanding how the brain works.

So taking our understanding of what Evagrius was doing in his own time--giving his readers a complete program of body and mind management to lead them to the conversation with God--what might our own ascetical practices be?  How can we direct our bodies and minds to the goal of conversation with God?

For me the conclusion is clear.  I should get my body healthy and keep it that way.  Eating less and more healthily, exercising, reducing stress, living more simply, getting and implementing medical care when it is needed without becoming a hypochondriac, all serve this end and are spiritual practices.  I should learn more about my mental and psychological life, getting better at distinguishing reality from fantasy, learning how my mind customarily works and disciplining it to understand my past and my preoccupations so that they don't control me.  It also means choosing to control external activities and stimuli, reading, music, entertainment, personal interactions, and work (to the extent that I can) to help me in my goal of conversation with God, making time for God.

This is ascetic practice that makes sense to me.  I have the same goal that the desert fathers and Evagrius did:  conversation with God.  I have the same instruments they did:  my body, my mind and my spirit.  I have the same intention:  to bring them all into alignment with my goal.  But since physiology and psychology are different, the means to these goals will be from our era, not theirs.

Merton and the Beats  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For today's commemoration of Thomas Merton, I combine a longstanding interest in his life and writings with a slightly more recent preoccupation with the Beats.  The two had more in common than a superficial knowledge of either would suggest, as pointed out by Ron Dart in a perceptive essay on the site Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice. 


There is little doubt that the American Beats such as Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Philip Whalen and Allen Ginsberg were in search of a deeper and more meaningful way of knowing than the frantic and driven American work ethic.  This is why all of them turned to the contemplative East in search of a more nourishing way...

The Orient, particularly India and Japan, became meccas and sites of inspiration and wisdom for the American Beats that birthed the counter culture of the 1960's.  The interest in the East was, in principle, a quest for a deeper way of knowing the self and living a more contemplative, integrated, ecological and holistic life.  Merton had many an elective affinity with many of the American Beats and their subversive questioning of the American establishment and mainstream way of thinking.  Merton's definition of a monk was that of a person that was on the margins of power and privilege, and, in this sense, many of the counter culture were monks.  This more metaphorical  read of the monastic way placed Merton much more on the same trail as the Beats...

Many of the American Beats called into question both American foreign policy and much American domestic policy when the contemplative vision was translated into public action.  The politics of the Beats tended to be, for the most part, protest and advocacy politics...It was this anarchist tradition that held high social criticism and activism that Merton had some affinity with also.  The retreat to the country by many Beats had im portant points of convergence with the monastic tradition.

The American Beats...had three important things in common that Merton shared.  Both sought to return to the depths of the contemplative way, both sought to engage the hard questions of American injustice at a variety of levels, and both tended to resort to anarchist politics as a way of being political and prophetic...

Merton's attempt to think through and live forth the tensions of the contemplative-active had less in common with those in his Cistercian order such as Bernard of Clairvaux and his Abbot General, Gabriel Sortais, than with the insights of the American Beats and Roman Catholic anarchists.  Merton was a reformer within the monastic tradition...

Ambrosian Advent Hymn  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Ambrose, 4th century bishop of Milan, is known for many things, not the least of which is his baptism of Augustine of Hippo.  But he is also known as the father of Western hymnody.  His musical motivations were not entirely artistic; Arianism was still a force to be reckoned with, and Ambrose's hymns are metrical poems expressing doctrinally orthodox themes set to popular tunes, some of which were marching songs of Roman legionaries.  One such is Veni Redemptor Gentium, "Come, Savior of the Nations", suitable for use during Advent.  A version appears as number 54 in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982, but this is really a paraphrase of an English translation of a German translation done by Luther.  The video contains the whole text in a very nice plainchant setting.  Below I include an English translation made by John Mason Neale, the great 19th century Anglican liturgist.


O come, Redeemer of the earth,
and manifest thy virgin-birth.
Let every eye in wonder fall;
such birth befits the God of all.

Begotten of no human will
but of the Spirit, Thou art still
the Word of God in flesh arrayed,
the promised fruit to man displayed.

The Virgin's womb that burdened gained,
its virgin honor still unstained.
The banners there of virtue glow;
God in  His temple dwells below.

Proceeding from His chamber free
that royal home of purity
a giant in twofold substance one,
rejoicing now His course to run.

O equal to the Father, Thou!
gird on thy fleshly mantle now;
the weakness of our mortal state
with deathless might invigorate.

Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
and darkness breathe a newer light
where endless faith shall shine serene
and twilight never intervene.

All praise, eternal Son, to Thee,
whose advent sets Thy people free,
whom, with the Father, we adore,
and Holy Ghost, for evermore.  Amen.