Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Cistercian Muses on the Israelites and Monks Wandering in the Desert

Yesterday I noted some early Irish monastic writings in relation to good Lenten reading -- and of course, it makes good spiritual reading generally. In a similar vein, I enjoyed this Lenten reflection written by Br. Stephen, O.Cist, of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank in Sparta, Wisconsin: Israelites and Monks Wandering in the Desert

Here are some (significant) excerpts:

For the first reading at Vigils for Lent, the Israelites have been wandering in the desert. As a child, the message of this story seemed to be “look at all God did for them and still they grumbled and were ungrateful.” Time in the cloister has changed my view a bit, because monks, in the traditional metaphor, are also people in the desert.

In hearing the story of the Exodus as a child, there seemed to be a miracle every few verses: the parting of the Red Sea, manna, water from the rock, and the theophany at Sinai. Now I am more inclined to remember that there were months and years of marching in circles in between. I have learned about the impatience and irascibility that come from what often seems to be wandering in circles in my time as a monk.

In the Mass each day, we believe that we look upon God. In our better moments we remember the graces received and offer our praise in the Divine Office, but in other moments I forget those things and grumble, and there is always something to grumble about. I can grumble about my brothers and our own Moses who leads us. I can grumble about the things left behind in coming to the desert. I can grumble at God because I seem to be wandering in circles when he could be leading me in a straight line and I grumble when I think that he is silent and could be more forthcoming with direction and consolation.


For monks, as for the Israelites, the desert is the place of testing and purification. It is our faith that is being put to the test and we know that we are off the path when we instead begin to test God...

In the stories of the Exodus, God and Moses repeatedly charge the Israelites with being a stiff-necked people. A monk does well to remember this. It is easy to become a creature of habit and overly attuned to the self. The task is to remain yielding and open, to step forward in faith rather than to prognosticate on what should be or might have been.

Read the entire piece: Israelites and Monks Wandering in the Desert

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