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'....attend with the ear of your heart...' Benedict of Nursia

St Benedict and Community Living

My recent reflection on St Benedict and the Desert Fathers and Mothers with regards to community and family life - in response to a friend’s considerations.

‘May you never be isolated but know the embrace

Of your anam cara.’

John O’Donohue

I confess to having no idea how the spirituality of Christian contemplation will look in the future. Contemplative networks, New Monastic or otherwise, grow organically and seem to have a life of their own. They are far more common too, I suspect, than many of us realise. No-one can have a monopoly over a relationship with the Divine. Although I have been interested in ‘Returning to the Desert Principles’ and contemplative living as I experience it in my life and the world for many years, I can only write about it here as a beginner. And in fact, what I mention here will be nothing new. But I take up the invitation to write from an experiential point of view.

Just in our present times in Melbourne alone we are surrounded, locally and technologically, by so many religious traditions, customs, wisdom stories, and spiritual corridors. Despite the many serious worldwide challenges we face in the 21st century, God’s presence amongst us is made valid by a ‘great crowd of witnesses,’ and this isn’t only Christian witness, contemplative or otherwise. In my own life God always seems to be opening up new pathways. Mark Oakley, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral London, likes to quote the Sufi, Hafiz, who describes tuning into God as like having the chair pulled from beneath your mind, and watching yourself fall on God. He also likes to quote Meister Eckhart who wrote that to live with a sense of the spiritual is like sitting in a dark room in which, every now and then, God coughs.

But the question, ‘in what spirit can we go forth into the future’ in terms of our Christian contemplative tradition, is a valid one. We never sit in isolation in that dark room, no matter how much we think or feel we do; sometimes it’s the least expected cough that reveals the surprise of God’s voice speaking directly into our hearts. God is always bigger than we are, and God is always particular