Saturday a young monk led us in looking at ourselves as a contemplative community. He is our brother, guide, and friend. He is a Benedictine monk, author, professor at the seminary of St. Joseph Abbey, and now a priest. He is Ephrem Arcement. Saturday he taught from his latest book, In the School of Prophets: Thomas Merton’s Prophetic Spirituality.
Twenty six of us sat in silence together to open the heart-mind before Ephrem began. I invited us all to begin the process of bringing the mind into the heart and to let go of the analytical part of the mind. Then we used the sound of a singing bowl to begin the shared silence. It was quite a scene: a monk from the monastery, and a bunch of monks in the world, all sitting together to practice God’s presence in community. The shared practice became moments of wonder, and quite a discovery once again of the value of simplicity, as together we dropped down into the inner being.
As Ephrem covered each chapter from his book he asked questions for our reflection on our own formation as a prophetic, contemplative community. We have discussions on a wide variety of topics in our weekly discussion groups around New Orleans. But we have never taken a serious look at the contemplative lifestyle we seek to establish as a form of prophecy. Ephrem helped us begin a new awareness that our very lives are issuing a call to others to look at themselves, to see how they might also need to spend time in the ground of being.
He also helped us see how our missional efforts to bring these practices to people in a hospital, university, law school, senior center, and in various churches could be functioning as a prophetic call to the world. How about that, our School for Contemplative Living as a kind of prophet standing in the desert of a frantic culture and calling people to practice the presence of God. They need it like we do. My heart really goes out to the many people in so many places who have no exposure to the way of contemplation.
We might be entering a new era in our own evolution as we corporately develop a broader sense of our mission. We seem to be expanding into new locales for the sharing of practices we hold dear. We also have a few new participants in the School beginning to see that they can lead groups, like Merry and Mary creating monthly quiet days, and Nancy birthing a new centering prayer and lectio divina group, and Alisha creating classes. We are also watching Kim work her magic by opening doors in the hospital for this work. How intriguing to see each one as a prophet, humbly issuing a call to an alternative lifestyle for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Ephrem is voicing God’s call into our community in a way that seems new for us. But this seems to be a time for us to listen, to wait for God’s power to emerge through us, and to follow this new leading into a world starved for an alternative to constant over-stimulation and saturation with noise and activity.
His final way of leading, after agreeing to have lunch with several of us at a local pizzeria, was by acknowledging his need to get back to the monastery. Spending several hours in a busy restaurant with large screen TVs blaring on every wall was making him a little bit frazzled. That brought up his longing to be home in a quiet environment. His longing for home teaches us how accustomed we have become to being surrounded by noise. In his need to get back home, a young monk led us to listen to our own longing for Home.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, now available as a Kindle book.