When I write my first book, "Finding Peace in Ancient Practices" will be its title. Not only because I am a contemplative with leanings towards the spiritual practices of the early church, but because it seems to me that the time is ripe for 21st century individuals and the Church to be able to hear how our mirroring this fast and furious culture isn't working either for people or institutions. Keeping ourselves and others busy and/or connected 24/7 has done nothing for our happiness, our peace, or our souls and likely the opposite is true. Maybe the subtitle of my book will be "why the Church doesn't need IM, billionaires and Facebook."
These ideas were sparked this week from sources as diverse as Ted Talks on NPR and Sr. Joan Chittister, author and social justice activist. This weeks Ted Talks covered some disturbing brain science that showed how excessive money/power made people mean [an over statement, but really close]. And from Joan Chittister's exposition on the Rule of Benedict (Chapter 48) which calls us toward the gentle and willing gift of less self-focus and increased devotion during the season of Lent i.e. giving ourselves away The logic may seem fuzzy at first, but to be succinct: the pursuit of a greedy kind of excess never leads to peace, even when achieved. However correspondingly, giving of self creates both peace and happiness.
We've known this all along of course. The Beatitude "Blessed are the poor in spirit" leads us to understand that compassion is a gift of willing poverty. The researcher on the Ted Talk found that it was the poorest in our culture who are the most generous, compassionate and happy. His further discovery was that even giving people an arbitrary or artificial advantage of money (playing a rigged game of Monopoly) made them act more cruelly towards those with less! Can you spell: Lehman Brothers, Citicorp, BP, JPMorgan, ad nauseum.
We must slow down to a soulful state to see these things playing out not in others...but within us. What is it that me makes me lack peace, happiness and compassionate action? Where and how am I on so fast a track that I lose sight of the really important in the chaotic busyness? Who have I left behind today, because my eye was on a distant prize? What word did I leave unspoken, what smile did I withhold, what pause did I fill rather than giving someone else the gift of attention?
The two ancient practices that have led me to this pondering are my own spiritual practices of meditation and spiritual direction. It was the gift of the Desert Fathers and Mothers to spend time in prayerful silence, simply listening for God's voice.[meditation] But it was also their gift to us, that when spiritual seekers would come, they would spend time listening for spiritual insight and being in prayer together. [spiritual direction] While both of these gifts still exist in the Church in some form--I find they are getting more attention with the increase of noise, confusion and chaos across the globe in the last dozen years. It seems that the time to reclaim these Christian practices is upon us.
For if indeed the economists and social prognosticators are correct and a clear path ahead is not discernable...then the wisdom we find in silence, the compassion we find in prayer, the communion of two souls seeking God together may be the only viable way to peace. Peace for ourselves and peace to share with the rest of the world. Peace that no one can buy. A peace that passes under-standing.
Have you found such peace lately? It's as close as choosing some silent moments each day, or seeking a soul friend -- an anam cara, in Gaelic. Peace is so necessary to us as individuals and to our world. But we cannot share what we do not have. It is in our rich tradition, that we can find the way ahead.
In Peace and Joy, KATHLEEN BRONAGH WELLER, the celtic monk
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