a bit monkish.
I began my discovery of Cistercian spirituality more than a quarter of a century ago. It’s been at the heart of two doctorates and a lifestyle of simplicity and contemplation in the world. About eight years ago I made a formal commitment to live the Cistercian charism beyond the walls of the monastery when I became a Lay Cistercian of Gethsemani Abbey. Rather than becoming a conflict with my deeply-held Wesleyan convictions, my Cistercian journey has actually deepened my Wesleyan commitments, particularly in Wesley’s focus on the Means of Grace and their relationship with personal and social holiness.
When I gather with the other Lay Cistercians and monks at the abbey once a month, I feel one with them. We have common interests in Christian spirituality. We have the same commitments to the same Trinitarian Godhead. We’re striving to live lives of holiness. We pray for one another, encourage one another in our faith, and embrace each other in friendship.
However, when I attend mass, I feel completely alone in a room full of people. It’s as if I’m not part of the Body of Christ. I’m not a member of the one True Church. This is because the priests can’t share the Body and Blood of Christ with me.
I know the priests would serve me if I went forward and made an altar with my hands. Yet out of respect for their tradition and teachings, I don’t ask. Instead, I cross my arms against my chest like someone out of a state of grace, and ask for a blessing. I’m thankful and deeply moved to receive this blessing from two Cistercian priests. However, the process makes me feel as if I’m not worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I believe without a doubt that Christ is present in these two elements. While my focus is on a spiritual presence more than on a physical one, His presence is definitely real to me.
In times of fellowship and study, the Gethsemani monks refer to me as “brother,” yet because of their ecclesial laws they are unable to share with me the most intimate expression and celebration of Christ and Christian fraternity. Mass at the abbey reminds me that I’m more of a step-brother in Christ rather than a true brother in Christ.
My heart weeps of the divide in God’s people and I longingly pray for a day when we may be one Church. Until then, I continue to cherish the daily office in unity with the Gethsemani community and I strive to unite holiness of heart and life as a witness to the world.
In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.