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.
“Remember I am no more than a finger pointing the way (or a way). It is God’s action in you that you experience. Be careful not to give credit to the finger for what happens in your life. Praise God and thank Him! I think this is important. Give credit where credit is due. The finger is needed and helpful but you are touching God.” – excerpt from letter, dated March 26, 2003
Lately, I have noticed that by having a repertoire of spiritual practices, I am able to respond more aptly to my different needs for prayer. And even though, I am committed to certain foundational practices, such as Centering Prayer and the Daily Examen, I like to engage in other practices to enrich my spiritual life. For example, this week, I am finding song to satisfy me with a certain inner fullness. I really like Taize, such as this piece on peace.
I believe that the spiritual life can be creative, and just as Brother René shared with me, “the finger is needed and helpful but you are touching God.”
Sometimes, my elementary school students will say to me in the library: “I’m bored, Mrs. Lafia.” So, I suggest different types of books for them to try and often times, they will come back and say, “I liked that.” Of course, they still have their favorites, but they are happy to spread their wings and try something new.
In our spiritual practices, there are also times, too, when we feel restless and even bored, and we don’t know how to work with that edge. We might even feel a tinge of guilt or fear. But what matters most is staying engaged, with commitment, curiosity, and the faith to keep on the journey. We must allow ourselves to see our spiritual lives as creative, and stay rooted, while at the same time keeping it fresh and alive.
I find it intriguing that Brother Rene would tell me that the finger is needed but what is most important is that “you are touching God.” How honest, really, to see the vastness of the spiritual experience. Although he lived such a dedicated path, one that would appear to most of us as very formal, with very specific ways of praying, he was open and speaks to something more universal. Yes, it is our desire to touch God that needs to be at the heart and soul of our spiritual practice.
How can you see your spiritual practice in a more creative and expansive way? Yes, just like Brother Rene, it’s essential to stay grounded–but also not to cling to our practices, and even within our particular practice to allow it to keep growing, expanding and surprising us.
Invitation: How can you relate to your spiritual practices in a more creative way? For this week, you might want to engage in one of these prayer practices:
- Write a letter to God using the question: God, what is your desire for me now?
- Include singing in your prayer this week
- Look at a flower as prayer
Don’t be afraid of feeling restless or bored, it can be a good thing. It could be a call to touch God more deeply in your prayer.
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).