Of late, I’ve been thinking about the corporate nature of prayer. It’s a formal phrase and is misleading because corporate implies big business in these days of mega-corporations; despite the shortcomings, the phrase is fitting. In this context, I speak about the origin of the word, corpartus or ‘to form into a body’ and am using that metaphor rather than that of commerce.
Instead of saying the entire Divine Office this morning, I did not get past today’s reading from The Rule of Benedict to move on to the Office. Instead, I spent more than a hour pondering, praying and reflecting on the practical wisdom of Benedict as he cautions against the zeal of recruitment, (my words, not Benedict’s.) When each of us has been immersed in the cultural conviction that reality is all about the numbers, what we can measure and the gripping illusion that growth is aligned with money, sales and fame, his warning hits home.
In chapter fifty-eight of the seventy-three chapter rule, the fifth century ‘father of monasticism’ counsels his monks about newcomers, the new recruits. Written about two-thousand years ago, the concepts are eerily suitable to the twenty-first century even though the words feel cumbersome and awkward, perhaps even alien to this ‘post Christian’ era.
His list of caveats are written in threes:
- The interest of the newcomer must be tested over the year of discernment for stability, obedience and endurance in trials.
- Over the course of the year, the novice is tested for zeal, obedience and opprobria or zeal for humiliations.
- And the novice is to read the rule, meditate and ponder on it three times over the course of the year.
More than ten years ago, during that year of discernment, I was both attracted and repelled by those terrifying words: Stability, obedience and humiliations. The attraction won out.
I understand zeal and am sure you do as well. Most of us don’t reach our twenties without an up close and personal acquaintance with the pattern of passing enthusiasms that frame our youth, perhaps far into adulthood. Whether the zeal was for a person, a career or an object, normally over the course of time, that passion extinguishes, perhaps dies.
The zeal Benedict is talking about here is the zeal for Christ. The zeal that does not get extinguished over time; rather it matures, becomes quieter but no less fierce.
The word stability did and still stands as paradox. Particularly during those times when I want to run, escape, because my life is no longer fun, the list of boring routines seem to loom endlessly in their tedium.
Humiliation: Therein lies the rub. Can any human profess to have a zeal for humiliation? St. Paul writes that he did but also declares that he is no longer himself but is Christ.
Following the year long process, the novice is accepted into the community. She along with all the others profess this prayer:
Receive me Lord, as you have promised,
And I shall live;
Do not disappoint me in my hope,
Three times the community repeats this phrase in monasteries all over the world. ‘Receive me’ with all of my flaws, imperfections, failures, weaknesses, incapacities, infirmities and ignorance.
“Receive me’ into what?
What awful confidence in the command: ‘Do not disappoint me in my hope.’
I am reminded of a prayer I wrote long ago in the form of a poem.
Is there a place called home
Where memories and tradition await
Patiently hidden in places made deep
By relentless pursuit of useless truths.
Do we come trailing clouds of glory
Only to don the actors pose
And spend too many years and tears
Reclaiming wisdom lost so long ago
Saved finally by the knowledge
That human truth is shadow and illusion
Yet uplifted by one hope and prayer
That our path toward peace and
Understanding lies patiently waiting
For our gaze to turn back to the
Place where we began.