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Posted February 23, 2012

Insert a little monasticism into your life

By Father Eugene Hemrick

"Of this there is no doubt, our age and Protestantism in general may need the monastery again or wish it were there. The monastery is an essential dialectical element in Christianity. We therefore need it out there like a navigation buoy at sea in order to see where we are, even though I myself would not enter it."

This wise advice by the Danish religious thinker Soren Kierkegaard, who lived from 1813 to 1855, is truer today than in his day. Frequently, we wake to one human trauma after another: suicide bombings; ethnic cleansing; deaths caused by storms; street violence; tragic accidents and economic woe. Fighting congestion and rushing to work is a daily battle.

Next comes the pressure to produce in pressure-cooker environments. Then it's back to congestion and hurrying home, only once again to immerse ourselves in traumatic news.

How is monasticism like a navigation buoy that guide us through life's hectic cycles?

In monasteries prayer begins the day and continues at intervals throughout the day. Monastic praying is more than reciting or singing psalms, it is a reminder that the day belongs to God and that the way to live the day wholesomely is to see it through God's eyes.

Instead of waking to the news of the world, a monk wakes to God's news. Sometimes the psalms he recites implore him to bless the sun, rain, snow and clouds; other times he is reminded that life is short and to make the best of it while we have breath. No matter the message of the psalms that are prayed, all of them contain a wise lesson that helps us align our life to the plan of our Creator. This way of praying is wonderful for people who feel they live in a world that is hectic and appears to lack a plan.

When we initiate our day through the eyes of God, life is put in much greater perspective. What the world considers important often pales in comparison to what God regards as significant. What God considers significant is the perfect antidote to the trauma and chaos we often experience. Starting the day with God's thoughts and directing our minds toward holiness is a better road to tranquility than starting the day with chaotic news.

We begin the day as co-workers of God, hoping and intending to continue his work on earth. Rather than viewing ourselves merely as producers of commodities or victims of the world, we're part of the bigger picture -- part of a great desire to further God's wisdom, justice, love and nobility.

Praying throughout the day as monks do might be compared to the efforts of a professional person to hone his or her skills. Mid-day and evening prayer help us to make changes and improve as we progress. Rather than being a chore, these times of prayer are building blocks for achieving human and spiritual perfection.

Kierkegaard was ever so correct, "the monastery is essential," especially in the way it aligns us and enables us to navigate the day. It sure beats being bounced around without the safety of a calm harbor where we can collect ourselves.