In this series of blog posts, Life lessons from a Trappist Monk, I share the wisdom of my late friend Brother Rene, who was a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani for over fifty years. For many years we corresponded by letter, and here I share excerpts from his letters.
God gives us the desire to be loved and to seek Him. But it has to be a free gift from ourselves to Him. That is humility. –excerpt from letter from Brother Rene, dated June 8, 2004.
Even with the best intentions, I seem to get caught in the same loop. On Easter day, I wrote this beautiful prayer:Open Me in You. It felt so inviting and receptive. But on Tuesday, when I was at work in the school library, the grump in me took over: I raised my voice at my students; I grew impatient at all the noise around me; and I just wanted to find a cave to hide in.
I wanted the lightness of the Easter season to fill me, but I was being dragged down by both habit and circumstances. At the end of the long day, I fortunately made it to the pool for a relaxing swim. I gave myself permission to go at a leisurely pace and reconnect with my body.
I often find that the path to surrender is through my body. Can you notice where you hold and grip energy and tension in your body? Your body is a great teacher in the journey of surrender.
As I began to swim, I felt tightness in my left shoulder, which was the build up of all the resistance in my day. So I just kept swimming, in an easy manner, releasing and letting go. My left shoulder is my place of habit, and by noticing it I can actually discover what is going on in my heart. As I began to release it, I found more lightness in my body and in my heart.
Can you notice the habits in your body? Do you tighten your shoulder? Do you clench your jaw? Do you walk with your head and chin forward? Do you need to lean back into your chair more often?
When I arrived home, I pulled into the garage, turned the car off, and found myself sitting still for a few minutes. I closed my eyes and prayed to not get lost in the same habits of resistance, anger, and frustration towards my job and my daily demands, which sometimes feel draining. I sensed my absolute need for God to help me, and the deep silent place of humility.
“Dear God, show me the way to live with more lightness. Rather than feel defeated by my own habits, I will keep my desires alive—for more lightness, more freedom, more joy in my day. And with your help, I trust with intention and surrender they will unfold.”
I believe surrender is about opening up to life and letting the Divine carry us. Yet, it’s also about the choices we make every day—in our thoughts, in our hearts, and in our actions. And even if I fall, I will turn again and again towards the Love that surrounds me–and is always loving me.
At the end of the day, I took time to pray the Compline. And this psalm seemed to be written for me:
From psalm 143:
“Lord, make haste and answer;
for my spirit fails within me.
Do not hide your face
lest I become like those in the grave.
In the morning let me know your love
for I put my trust in you,
Make me know the way I should walk:
to you I lift up my soul. “
• Establish some daily practices to keep you grounded: meditating, spiritual reading, swimming, or taking a daily walk. Do something that connects you to the Spirit every day!
• Sit quietly for 5 minutes in the morning and receive the love of the Divine pouring into you.
If you would like to read more from my correspondence with Brother René, check out my forthcoming book, which contains excerpts from our letters: Seeking Surrender: How my Friendship with a Trappist Monk Taught me to Trust and Embrace Life (Ave Maria Press, April 2015).