Monday, October 18, 2010

Cloister of the Heart

From Serge.

To non-monks, a cloister may seem to be nothing more than a barrier: a wall or a fence that divides the abode of monks from the rest of the world. And certainly, the enclosure is defined by its boundaries. But a more intimate look at monasticism reveals that a cloister is more than its boundaries, just as a nation is more than its borders. The real beauty of the cloister is not is periphery, but its center. The cloister is the place where community happens. It is the anchor of stability, the crucible where penance and humility are forged, the home where lovers of Christ — and of the brothers and the place — reside, hopefully joyfully, usually imperfectly, always with the help of God’s grace.

We must find a “cloister of the heart,” a place within ourselves where we can cultivate stability and silence and simplicity and all the other Cistercian charisms.

This is it: this is the call... of all lay contemplatives. We are called, through silence, through our longing for deep prayer and for the slow transformation that repentance and humility can offer us, to enter into a cloister without walls: a cloister within, a cloister of the heart.

This does not mean that we simply withdraw into some sort of navel-gazing introversion. Far from it. Like the cloister itself, the heart is a center, not a boundary. The heart’s lifelong job is to receive blood, and then send the blood out again. If the blood stops moving through the heart, the heart — and the body it serves — quickly dies. What makes the heart a heart is its very dynamism, the power of its continual pumping, the sheer rhythm by which is serves the fullness of life. For a person who has embraced the cloister of the heart as a lay contemplative, this means we continually draw within ourselves the refreshing silence and solitude of contemplative prayer, only to then give it away, bringing the gifts of a life immersed in the love of God to all those whom we love and whom we meet in the course of our busy lives.

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