Archive for the ‘Rule for Monasteries by Saint Benedict’ Category

imageWhen the Well Runs Dry

There comes the day when most speakers run out of stuff to say, and I came perilously close this weekend. Of course I had known for months that this day of reflection for members of the Order of Malta was on the horizon, so it wasn’t like it came as a total surprise, out of the blue.  But the real challenge came from years of speaking to this same group.  Was there anything new to say?  Was there anything that I could repackage and present in a novel way?  Or could I do a variation on that line from the gospels — could I pour old wine into new wineskins?

I suppose the title of my conferences hinted at my dilemma.  How do you replenish the well when the well runs dry?  My intention was to address the issues of my audience, but the title was as much for my benefit as for theirs.  Of course it was a catchy title for a group living in drought-plagued California.  But it also happens to be an appropriate theme for people who have committed themselves to service that they pledge to keep up for a lifetime.

There’s no denying the fact that as people mature they find many old commitments increasingly difficult to keep.  Marriages can coast on early enthusiasm for only so long, and eventually people have to invest a lot of work to make the relationship flourish and deepen.  The same is true with friendship.  But it’s in the commitment to serve others where the strains can show most easily, and often it shows after only a short while.

imageIt’s great to work in a soup-kitchen, for example, but if the lines never get any shorter people can reasonably begin to wonder if there’s any point to it.  MInistering to the sick and to those in their last weeks and months can drain care-givers beyond anything they ever imagined.  Even the most optimistic of parents can slip into depression when children wander away from the values they sought to instill.  And the strongest of people can be adrift at sea when close friends find themselves estranged from their faith in God.  In the face of apparent defeat, what are people to do when they have given to others day in and day out, and there seems nothing to show for it?

It seems to me that if people intend to keep giving of themselves but not be drained entirely, then they must replenish themselves somehow.  The first step to renewal seems not to be intuitive, however.  Renewal can only begin when people admit that they cannot stand alone.  They cannot be their own sole source of inspiration.  Sooner or later they will run out of reserves, and there will be nothing left.

imageIt’s a genuine temptaiton to want to be independent and strong for the sake of others, but eventually that becomes the temptation to be like God.  It’s the very same thing that Adam and Eve reached out for in the Garden of Eden.  But they, like most people since, learned the cruel and ultimate lesson of life.  None of us can stand alone.  We need to rely on someone else, and ultimately that someone else is God.

Saint Benedict opens his Rule for Monks with one simple word that invites the monk to reach out beyond himself to discover the real source of strength.  “Listen” in Benedict’s way of thinking is not passive.  It’s an active engagement with inspiration that comes from outside, and it’s that inspiration that replenishes the monk who is on the verge of empty.

Of course that’s just as true for other Christians as it is for monks.  If people are to be renewed, and if they are to avoid running out of enthusiasm or commitment to service, then they have to reach beyond themselves.  They have to “listen with the ear of their heart,” as Benedict advises.

imageBenedict’s words of course embody the wisdom of the ancients, but they are equally valid for the internet age as well.  So it is that even people in the 21st century who find themselves drained need to find nourishment somewhere, and that naturally has to come from outside of oneself.  For Christians that nourishment comes from reading the scriptures, praying alone and with others, and participating in the worship of the community.  And if it’s important to have ears that are open to the noises God sends our way, it is equally important to have eyes that are open to the work of God that takes place right in front of us.  Closed in on ourselves, it’s easy to succomb to self-pity and think that we alone carry burdens that are unique in all the world.  With eyes open we can see others who carry similar burdens, and they do so with generosity that can be equal to our own.  And in fact some of them are so generous that they’re willing to reach out and help us carry our own heavy burdens.

There’s no easy solution for replenishing our own well when the well runs dry.  But for sure the solution is not self-derived.  Thankfully God gave us ears to hear and eyes to see and brains to use.  And God invites us to use them all.  Using them all is the quickest way I know to refill the well, even to overflowing.


+On May 30th I gave a day of reflection to the members of the Subpriory of Our Lady of Philermo of the Order of Malta.  We gathered for that at Vallombrosa Retreat Center in Menlo Park, CA.

+On May 29th the community gathered for the funeral of our confrere, Fr. Richard Eckroth.

+On May 31st we celebrated the feast of Trinity Sunday.  Depictions of Jesus abound in the history of Christian art; but illustrations of the Trinity are few and far between.  Just such a depiction of the Trinity is to be seen on the façade of the cathedral of Orvieto, in Italy.  The pictures in today’s post come from that cathedral.

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