Instructions on Prayer from a Trappist Monk

Brother Elias Offers Wisdom on Silence, Compassion, and Inner Transformation

“I’m speechless,” remarked Brother Elias Marechal, OCSO, after a congregation of several hundred young evangelicals vigorously applauded his visit to their worship service last month. But then he quipped, “We don’t talk in the monastery much.” Grace Fellowship in Athens, GA (home of the University of Georgia) recently invited this deeply contemplative Trappist monk to come and speak […]

Before I can say “God Himself is mine,” I have to let go of everything but God himself. The familiar picture I may have of God is not God himself, and I will have to leave that image behind in the desert. God as he is in himself is wholly Other than I can imagine him, is transcendent Mystery. Likewise, my experience of God, whether in prayer or in my brothers and sisters, is not God himself. And so I will have to let go of my familiar forms of praying and experiencing God as I journey through the desert. I can learn to trust him whom I do not name or experience, trust him because I love him.

Charles Cummings OCSO
Spirituality and the Desert Experience (Denville, NJ: DImension Books, 1978), p. 118.

Religion, or conscious, intimate contact with God, must not only dominate, but must penetrate and permeate all your living. That means you are not only to worship while at work, but your work itself must be worship; you are not to go from play to prayer or from prayer to play, but your play itself must be a form of prayer; you are to sleep, and sleep soundly, but all the while your heart is to be watching; and when you are awake, you are to be wide awake to the God you are adoring with your entire being.

Fr. M. Raymond OCSO
Spiritual Secrets of a Trappist Monk (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2000), Kindle locations 589-593.

One of my fellow Lay Cistercians recently alerted me to the fact that there are a number of videos online produced by the Trappistine nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Iowa. So I’ll be sharing many of them with you in the months to come. Here’s one now: several of the sisters discuss the topic of “monastic practices.” It’s not very long, but filled with wisdom: so enjoy.

 

Seeking Surrender (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2015)

Colette Lafia tells the story of a special, seven-year-long letter writing friendship she forged with a Trappist monk of Gethsemani Abbey — and how the monk’s gentle wisdom, deep faith, and encouraging words helped her to trust and embrace life, especially as she moved through the grief of acknowledging that it was not her path to have children. It’s a gentle and warm book that gives insight into the nature of spiritual friendship and how monastic spirituality can be a blessing even to those of us who aren’t monks.

The fifth of six videos filmed at a talk I gave last August. Monastic spirituality (specifically Cistercian/Trappist spirituality) has, since Vatican II, become increasingly accessible to those of us who are not monks or nuns. In this video I share some insights into the beauty of monastic spirituality and how anyone can find inspiration from the monastic world to grow in a truly contemplative way.

Deborah Arca, the content editor of Patheos, sat down with me for a Skype interview earlier today. We talked about my new book, Befriending Silence, and how Cistercian spirituality can be a blessings for all people (not just monks or nuns).

Finding the Treasure: Letters from a Global Monk (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2011)

A charming and humble autobiography of a twentieth-century Trappist monk, told in the form of letters written to a friend. Roberts, the son of an Anglican bishop, recounts his youth in the far east, conversion to Catholicism and eventual entry into Trappist life, leading ultimately to Rome where for years he served as an assistant to the Abbot General (the leader of Trappists worldwide). As he tells his story, Roberts provides a rich insight into cloistered life, along with down-to-earth reminisicences of several famous monks, including Thomas Keating and Bernardo Olivera. But most important of all is his candid sharing of his own inner life, as he continually sought to be faithful to Christ in the midst of his extraordinarily rich life.

Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina (Liguori, MO: Liguori/Triumph, 1995)

I’ve read a number of wonderful books on the ancient monastic practice of Lectio Divina, but I keep coming back to this one. Steeped in the author’s own formation as a Trappist monk and spiritual guide, Sacred Reading provides a thoughtful look at lectio not only as a spiritual practice but as a method of theological mindfulness, of discerning the rich meaning of scripture, and ultimately of presenting oneself to the Holy Spirit for the purpose of ongoing formation in Christ.
If approached carelessly, lectio divina can be just another practice of solipsistic self-exploration, offering little benefit other than an opportunity to know the self better. It’s a good thing to know oneself, but this spiritual practice offers so much more, for it is really about knowing God — something Casey clearly understands and an insight which informs this must-read book.

The contemplative life is a marvelous school of discernment where, in the course of the contemplative adventure, one learns to recognize the true consolations of the Spirit among so many desires swarming in the heart.

André Louf
In the School of Contemplation (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2015), p. 14.

Since the sixteenth century, especially in those cultures secretly influenced by Cartesian dualism, there has been a tendency to consider the spiritual life entirely as a matter of interior feelings, states, and actions. The disembodied spirituality that resulted often concentrated excessively on the conscious experience of  individuals and neglected not only the deeper stirrings of the human spirit but also the everyday role played by sacramental practice, good works, and community life. The spiritual life was considered almost as a private affair between oneself and God, and meditation became a means of exercising control over one’s life rather than a channel by which one could open oneself to be surprised by God… Traditional monastic life, on the contrary, emphasized the importance of arriving at a harmony of body and soul, both working together toward the same goal. A monk prayed and a monk worked; it was expected that the bodily work he did for the support of the community would be permeated by prayer.

Michael Casey
The Road to Eternal Life (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011), pp. 142-3

In the School of Contemplation (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2015)

André Louf was the abbot of a Trappist Cistercian monastery in France for nearly thirty-five years; he is the author of several modern spiritual classics, including The Cistercian Way and Teach Us to Pray. In 2004 a French edition of this book was published, pulling together a variety of Dom André’s talks and monastic conferences on topics such as community, obedience, ecumenism, the Psalms and the Liturgy, and (of course) contemplation and the contemplative life. In “Spiritual Experience” the author gently describes how our contemporary obsession with experience needs to be grounded in discernment, prayer, and witness. The twelve chapters offer a wonderful insight into monastic formation as it takes place in our time, and invites the reader to be formed by this wisdom as we each seek our own life given to contemplation.