Monastic Spirituality Retreat: Leadership Development Grant Program
Aug 29, 2019
By The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Linman, Assistant to the Bishop for Faith and Leadership Formation
As I write these words, I am on a personal retreat at Holy Cross Monastery north of the City on the Hudson River. I am taking this time at summer’s end so that I can be grounded and better prepared for the busy new program year that is unleashed just after Labor Day. Curiously enough, I never sleep well on my first night at the monastery because I am like a kid at Christmas who cannot wait until the next morning to unwrap all the gifts. The gifts of monastic spirituality are a slower pace, silence and also holy encounters with others, living according to the day’s natural rhythms, dwelling richly with God’s Word all day long in the prayer services, all the while being bathed in the abundance of God’s grace with a palpable sense of peace.
It was here at Holy Cross in the summer of 2018 that I commenced a two-month-long monastic sabbatical thanks in great measure to the support of our Synod’s Leadership Development Grant Program. The focus for my sabbatical time was to be immersed in the fullness of Benedictine Spirituality 24/7 over the course of six weeks during which time I did a lot of reading of commentaries and reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict. The practical fruit of my sabbatical was the development of a model of a retreat primarily for pastors and deacons to introduce them to the major themes of Benedictine Spirituality and how they might seek to incorporate these themes into their busy lives and ministries for the sake of their holistic well-being.
In January of 2019 I led a test-run of this retreat model for 12 of our pastors and deacons also at Holy Cross – thanks yet again to your generosity through the Leadership Grant Program in making it possible for these leaders to make retreat for the better part of a week without cost to them. These 12 persons represented the diversity of our Synod in microcosm – an even representation of genders, of pastors and deacons, representing the cultural and ethnic diversity that is God’s gift to us and coming from all parts of our synodical territory.
Benedictine Spirituality is gently ordered and flexible enough so that even with many needs, desires, and hoped-for outcomes of the retreat represented by a diverse group, each person got something of significant personal value to them during the time at the monastery. We basically plugged into the Benedictine routine, attending the prayer services, enjoying the communal meals, the times for silence, as well as times for conversation. During the monastic work periods, our group gathered for conversations that I led on Benedictine themes, such as, prayer, reading, work, hospitality, humility, stability, conversion of life, obedience, solitude in community, and more. Again, the goal was not to seek converts to monasticism, but to explore how we might incorporate the Benedictine themes into our lives for the sake of the ministries to which God has called us. In this way, what we were up to was in keeping with Martin Luther’s response to his monastic life. Arguably, it’s not so much that Luther rejected monasticism, but that he sought to introduce the riches of deep spiritual life to all of God’s people outside of the cloister, such that a vital life of faith was not just the domain of professed, or professional, religious people. In short, this kind of spirituality is for everyone, and everyone can discover in it blessings that are in keeping with who they are as children of God.
What we ended up with was a daily routine marked by about eight hours of scheduled time, eight hours of free time for people to do what they felt drawn to do, and eight hours of sleep – a well-balanced life if only for those several days. It was like living the dimensions of Portico’s Wholeness Wheel in balance all day, every day.
In conclusion, I thank God for the gift of generosity expressed through our Leadership Development Grants that made these monastic experiences available to me and to the other leaders who joined me. Moreover, this is a gift that keeps on giving. Which is to say, if you have interest in exploring the riches of monastic spirituality in the Benedictine tradition and how you might apply its themes to your life, reach out to me ([email protected])! God in Christ bless you and keep you.