Horarium, take two

I have revised my horarium. I found that requiring myself to do things at certain pre-set times was not working for me; I don't want to specify exact hours and then feel guilty about missing them. An exact schedule is important for a community when people have to agree to do things together; for a solitary, it's less useful, I think. A certain amount of flexibility works best for me. The objective is to fit in the Office, a couple of sessions of "mental prayer", reading and study, manual work, household and personal upkeep, and of course work. Sometimes things happen in a different order; the times might vary; but everything does happen.

--Rise, shower & dress, breakfast
--Morning Prayer
--Manual work
--Lectio Divina, reading & study
--Work (weekdays) or journaling (weekends)

--Noonday Prayer
--Contemplative Prayer
--Main meal
--Brief free time

--Work (weekdays) or free time (weekends)

--Evening Prayer
--Centering Prayer
--Light meal
--Manual work
--Free time

The vow of chastity

I know there is a wide range of opinion on this topic. On one hand are traditional folk who equate the vow of Chastity with strict celibacy. On the other hand, there are hermits under vows who are married, and many Anglican monastics who are not celibate--indeed many have life partners--who believe that sex within the context of fidelity is chaste. I'm sure there are many other points of view as well.

Although I am sure they are perfectly valid, I cannot hope to articulate anyone else's position about the meaning of the vow of Chastity. I can only say what Chastity is about for me. And for me, Chastity is not about sex at all. The classical and etymological origin of the word is not about sex either; it is about purity of intent and commitment.

For me, Chastity means that I am in a committed relationship with the Holy One. And I can be fully committed to only one relationship at a time. Maybe others can do more, but I cannot. It is just not possible for me to juggle the conflicting demands, to invest sufficient emotional energy in something other than my primary relationship, when that primary relationship is as intense as the one I have chosen. To give to God a free and undivided heart, I cannot be in a committed relationship with another human being.

If you believe that you are married to God, and if you believe that sex should only happen in the context of marriage, I suppose that celibacy would then naturally be synonymous with Chastity. I don't happen to share that view about sex. I'm not into promiscuity or one-night stands; I fear that such experiences may risk demeaning, hurting or objectifying one or both participants. But two people who know and trust and care for one another, responsibly and consensually sharing intimacy and pleasure? I say: wonderful.

But the decision to enter a committed relationship is different. Knowing that I cannot do both, if I had to choose between my romance with God and a human suitor, I'd have to think very carefully. Upon prayerful reflection, I believe my call from the Holy One is stronger. I would have to focus on the One who means more to me than any other.

A New Song

Great happiness! Steven Sametz, whose music I adore, accepted my suggestion that he should set the text after which this journal is titled--a passage by John of the Cross, from Sayings of Light and Love.

We read through the piece last night for the first time, and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. I couldn't even sing part of it, because I got choked up, it was so beautiful and meaningful to me.

The conditions of a solitary bird are five: First, that it flies to the highest point. Second, that it does not seek after company, not even its own kind. Third, that it aims its beak to the wind. Fourth, that it has no definite color. Fifth, that it sings very sweetly.
This saying of John's has become a touchstone for me. He wrote it for one of the Carmelite nuns at Avila where he was spiritual director (it could even have been for Teresa, who knows?). It is advice for someone on the path of contemplative spirituality -- like me. He wrote the verses so that they would be easy to memorize, and wrote a fuller explanation that is more or less like this:

it flies to the highest point = always be aware of the presence of God

it does not seek after company = strip away everything that is not God

it aims its beak to the wind = be open and listen for the voice of the Holy One

it has no definite color = let go of your own ambitions and attachments

it sings very sweetly = sing sweetly of the most delightful love

John was not only a great poet, but also a very wise spiritual director; even though he lived four hundred years ago, I often feel him speaking to me across the centuries. And now my favorite text of John's has become the most beautiful music.

This has to be the coolest thing ever.

Diocesan developments

Had some interesting news this week about the matter of Solitaries in the Episcopal Church, and in the Diocese of New York in particular.

Since I seem to be gravitating toward the path of being a Solitary, as opposed to joining a religious order of hermits, I talked to my rector about facilitating contact with the Bishop. My rector was a bit pessimistic about it; despite lots of contact with monastic orders, he'd had no previous experience with Solitaries so he didn't imagine that the Diocese would have, either. He cautioned me not to expect much of a response.

But to my delight, this is the response he received from them:

In fact, we have 2 life-professed Solitaries in the diocese right now, a new aspirant has applied, and I know of one other priest, besides yourself, who has a person contemplating this vocation. As a result of this, the Diocese of NY submitted a report to our House of Bishops Committee on Religious Life about how we have handled this. It is emerging in the Episcopal Church, to such a degree that the HOB will be discussing it next week... with new applications, we have now done a revision of the discernment and expectations

Suddenly I don't feel quite as... solitary...!

Transactional spirituality

I have recovered from my temporary insanity. I meditated for awhile on the idea that God did not, in fact, cause my water heater to burst. That seems to have done it. I resumed my schedule today.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of "transactional" spirituality, where you worship God with the expectation of rewards. You think: if I worship God, I will be happy. If I just pray the right way, he will take care of my needs. If I just love him enough, he will save me.

The error in this way of thinking soon becomes apparent. We pray, we revel in our love for God, then we sit back and expect the rewards to roll in. But life is what it is. Things happen. Water heaters burst. Disasters strike. Loved ones leave us. Disease takes its toll. And if we were expecting to be rewarded for loving God, we can feel very betrayed.

It's easy to fall into this trap because so many faith communities use Madison Avenue marketing techniques to lure us to worship. To sound appealing, and attract members, they emphasize the spiritual benefits of joining. So we come into a faith community, not as a member, but as a customer. We expect results, as if we were buying a product. We naturally think: I will attend services, and contribute my time and money; and I will get something out of it. I will ask for things, and God will give them to me. Faith will bring me rewards.

But it just doesn't work that way.

The Holy One loves you more than you can possibly imagine. -AND- Bad things will happen to you. Both those things are profoundly true. God does not make bad things go away. Nor does he cause them.

So what's the point of faith?

The point of faith is knowing, in your deepest being, that Love is stronger than Death. That the Holy One's love for you is stronger than the worst possible thing that can happen to you. That even Death cannot separate you from his love.

And this is true, whether or not we attend services, or pray a certain way, or contribute our time or our money. You cannot earn God's love. God does not love us because of what we do. He loves us in spite of what we do. He loves us regardless. We worship and give out of gratitude for his love. We love, because God loves.

And this knowledge is what gets us through. Knowing the depth of God's love for us. Knowing that no situation is so bad that God's love cannot redeem it. This is the gift he has given us. And it was free. We didn't have to earn it.

And for me, that is certainly worth taking a few minutes each day to say Thank You.

Spiritual oobleck

Just a very quick update. A small domestic disaster (a burst water heater) wreaked havoc on both my horarium and my state of mind. I've had to spend most of the weekend cleaning up the mess so that a new water heater can be installed tomorrow. This and a couple of other disasters, financial in nature, have left me feeling angry and resentful. My attitude toward God right now is not so much "I love you" as "what have you done for me lately?" Last night I deliberately skipped Evening Prayer in order to play on Second Life. And I'm not even sorry.

Honestly, I do not see spirituality as a transaction. My fidelity to the Holy One is not based on what I get out of it. I am pretty sure this temper tantrum will pass. But at the moment, I am not in the mood to write about the gunky mess that is my spiritual life today. I just needed a break from it. Tomorrow is a new start and perhaps it will be better.
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stained glass


I got distracted during Morning Prayer by the word "milch". How in the world did that make it into the NRSV? Why didn't they just say "milk"...?

"Now then, get ready a new cart and two milch cows..."

---1 Samuel 6:7
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Interior solitude

It is necessary gradually to learn the interior spirit of solitude, to live mentally within the four walls of the cell, to avoid all undue preoccupation with either the past or the future, to live in the present moment in the vital actuality of the presence and love of God. You must learn, and it is not easy, to live in the real of this place and time.

--First Initiation into Carthusian Life

Learning from the Carthusians

I've finished with the Thomas Merton book, Thoughts in Solitude, for the moment. But it was so good, I'm sure it will remain well-thumbed and frequently referred-to.

Today I started the Carthusian Novice Conferences, a series of books designed to help new monks learn the Carthusian way. Even though I can't be a Carthusian myself, I can learn from them. I figure that since it was their example that inspired me, their beginners' books might be a good place to start.

Amazon has some of the books but most I had to order directly from the Carthusian monastery in the U.K. The books are somewhat intense, and somewhat abstract. Both qualities make sense to me, considering their purpose is to train new monks in this most austere of religious orders.

I'm starting right at the beginning, though, with a deceptively small and friendly-looking yellow booklet, First Initiation into Carthusian Life. At the suggestion of the authors, I expect I'll use this for Lectio on the bus for the next few days.