In this article from Conversations Vol. 5.2 Gifts from the Monastery, Sister Anne McLoughlin walks the reader through a cloister, using that metaphor to help us understand the four pillars of the Monastic Rule: prayer, community, work and rest. She imparts wisdom for creating a “little rule” that provides busy people of today a new way to strengthen our connection with God by inviting us to ancient rhythms of Christian spirituality.
Prayer: For daily prayer, McLoughlin points out the importance of making quiet space for God at the start and end of each day. Throughout the day, keeping the Liturgy of the Hours, which many Christians today pray in community when possible and in private when necessary, helps to ground our moments in God’s presence. She says, “Prayer is not simply the saying of prayers or even talking to God. It is an attitude of finding God in all persons, things, and events in one’s life.”
Community: Community, she reminds us, “keeps us from becoming the center of our own universe.” This notion of individualism, especially in contemporary Western society, is challenged by the commandment Jesus gave to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves! What a timely message this is, given the current global health crisis and “social distancing” we are practicing. Also, community is a mirror in which we can see the face of Christ in others, and this can help us to discern God’s will as we hear the voice of God in others.
Work: Work, McLoughlin points out, is more than just a means to the end of survival. Rather, work can be involvement in the creative work of God when we are attentive to God as we do it. Practicing the monastic perspective on work frees us from the temptation to make work an idol that validates our worth. It cannot and will not redeem us— that work has been done by God alone. This article helps us see that the development of a holy attitude toward whatever work we do, is involvement in the creative work of God.
Balance: Finally, to have a balanced rule of life, we must practice the discipline of rest. As McLoughlin states, “Attentiveness to and awareness of the need for rest keeps us truly human…” All four pillars are needed in order to become aware of the unforced rhythms of grace that are meant to draw us further into God’s presence.
- In her opening, Sister Anne talks about her pilgrimage to a French monastery with a cloistered walk. She shares “something stirred within my soul as I walked its sacred space. I felt solitude and silence and a sense of being one with God and my surroundings.” Reflect on a time when you’ve experienced solitude and silence drawing you to God? What about that experience stirred your soul?
- Review the definitions of monastic and apostolic spirituality: What invitations might there be for you to experience God in a new way through these approaches?
- Of the four pillars of monastic life (prayer, community, work and rest), which one are you drawn to? Do any of the approaches feel challenging, or boring, or might benefit from more practice?
- Do you think having a “rule” for life is legalistic? Why or why not? How are these rules helpful? Hurtful? Do you see these four rules at work in Jesus’ life? If so, where and how?
- What is your relationship with work? What does the notion that work allows us to participate in creation with God stir in you? How has work served as an idol in your life (for proving your own worth, striving, comparing, etc) What message is God inviting you to receive about work as a result of this article?
- McLoughlin reminds us that we were not meant to live life alone— created in the image of the perfect community of the Trinity. With the increase in connections throughout the world due to technology, we’ve found ourselves more and more disconnected. How can practicing the monastic rule of community shift our perspective in the current moment? What does it mean to love our neighbor from a distance? Is that even possible? Perhaps the COVID19 pandemic will open up ways to love our neighbor that this generation hasn’t experienced.
- “Rest, recreation, leisure, and sleep are the ‘cloister wall’ that keeps us humble in the true sense of the word. Our need for rest reminds us of our humanness.” Does your family practice a Sabbath rest? Think of some ways you can practice little rests each day— resting from technology, taking a nap, reading a book for pleasure?
We hope this article gives you insight into new ways to experience God’s presence. Consider putting into practice one of the habits mentioned here, praying the Hours. A simple way to engage this discipline is to set an alarm on your phone for every three hours (6AM, 9AM, 12noon, 3PM, 6PM, 9PM). When the bell chimes, it’s a reminder to stop, if only for 15 seconds, and pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Try keeping the hours for a few days and notice if ordinary moments become sacred—making you more aware of God’s presence