Musings from the Monastery + 2018 (Part I)
May 30, 2018
By the Rev. Jonathan Linman
Assistant to the Bishop for Faith and Leadership Formation
Fruitful Rest, Restful Labor in the Whole of Life
I am on sabbatical, a word related to Sabbath, which has to do with rest. So in the retreat from my usual routines, I am resting. But this rest is not a void. Rather it is beginning a process which will bear much fruit in clearing my head and heart of much clutter for the sake of seeing many things in my life and ministry with greater clarity. This fruit of reflection will continue to ripen in the coming weeks, and will be harvested in due course, as God wills it.
Moreover, in Luther’s understanding, Sabbath is not just about an absence of work. Rather, it’s a clearing of the day to be filled more fully by God’s Word. My days here at the monastery are full to overflowing with the Word – in matins, and daily Eucharist, and midday prayer, and vespers, and compline, along with my own daily devotional reading of scripture in lectio divina. Thanks be to God.
Work and manual labor are, in fact, integral to the monastic routine. So I am engaged in various kinds of work. My physical labor, as it were, finds some expression in daily yoga and long walks to keep my body moving and limber. Then I have my sabbatical project related work of reading the Rule of St. Benedict, and several books of commentary on the Rule written both by Benedictine nuns and monks, but also by lay authors who are captivated by Benedictine spirituality and its application to their own lives.
This gentle labor lays the foundation for the development of a model for a retreat that I will make available to leaders in our Synod based on Benedictine spirituality, and how we can live its themes in our own non-cloistered lives toward greater balance and well-being for the sake of the work to which God calls us. With that retreat in mind, I now have a model schedule and the beginnings of outlines for presentations on the themes of Benedictine spirituality. But this work is undertaken at a leisurely pace, restfully, one day at a time, a luxury which a sabbatical affords. Thanks be to God.
In short, in one way or another, I am living something approaching the fullness of the ELCA and Portico’s so-called “Wholeness Wheel,” that schema which rostered ministers love to hate, but which nonetheless helpfully captures the many dimensions of our lives which need attention: spiritual, intellectual, vocational, physical, emotional, social/interpersonal, and even financial well-being. Again, I say, thanks be to God!
Through the Hours, Lingering with the Liturgy in Season
Monastic life happens at a slower pace. This is much needed balm for me, as my main current need and opportunity in my own spirituality can be summed up in these few verbs and adverbs: slow down, breathe, sit still, stand firm.
With four prayer offices and the Eucharist daily, there’s opportunity to really linger with the liturgy, to dwell with its themes as liturgical seasons unfold over the course of days – for me, in my sabbatical time thus far, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday into Ordinary Time. What usually is a feast overlooked and under-represented, Ascension became Ascension tide – its own short season of days to dwell with the experience of Jesus’ return to the Father and the disciples’ (our) waiting to be clothed with power from on high with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The celebration of Pentecost began at vespers the night before, so that I could really experience richly the Vigil of Pentecost. In quiet prayer, and with our synodical life together in mind, I prayed these refrains: “Come, healing Spirit” , “Come, reconciling Spirit”, “Come, emboldening Spirit”, “Come, encouraging Spirit….”
I spent devotional time going down a YouTube rabbit hole, listening to beloved hymns and a Bach Cantata related to Pentecost. I heard an appropriately monastic sermon on the Day of Pentecost which made the important point that the coming of the Spirit made possible not just the proclamation of the gospel, but also the capacity to hear the gospel and to understand it. So the Spirit’s coming is as much about quiet listening and discerning understanding as it is about en-Spirited boisterous speech in preaching. I felt promptings to listen more for the voice of the Advocate, the Comforter, and not just the critical voices inside myself that falsely accuse me. It was a celebration of Pentecost that unfolded and opened up slowly over the course of a couple of days like a flower blossom.
Trinity Sunday also offered up many spiritual highs that lasted from vespers the night before to well into Sunday afternoon. I even made time for devotional engagement with the Athanasian Creed (church geek that I am). Who knew that a festival focused on a heady, “dry” doctrine could be so wet and rich with spiritual experiences of the living God whose essential reality is Trinitarian, in whose name we are baptized? So I am led to say yet again, thanks be to God!
In short, I’m having a wonderful time. ‘Wishing you were here to enjoy this, too!