Reflection -- Vows
I'm writing this early this week, Tuesday, because on Thursday through Saturday I will take silent retreat at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington DC. They have two 'hermitages' there, meaning buildings for one person with one room that serves as bedroom, kitchenette, bath and sitting area. The monastery is in the woods as are the hermitages and the woods are 42 acres of peace. My goal is to go 48 hours without speaking to another human. Bets are off on talking to the animals. Hey! It's St. Francis, remember? Here's the URL for the hermitage - Hermitage - Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America (myfranciscan.org) https://myfranciscan.org/visit/hermitage/
While on retreat I will make the forest my church. I intend to explore every inch of the woods where the hermitage is located and expect most of prayer while there to be outdoors. I will also, during my time there, 'renew my vows.' More on that below.
Why am I doing this? Because, as we have been saying all summer in our Message Series, God is found everywhere. And in this case, I seek to spend time with God in silence and in nature.
Many know that there are traditional monastic vows: poverty, chastity and obedience. These are the Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite and Augustinian vows. The friars at this monastery take these vows when they fully commit to the Franciscan way. They commit to obedience to God, the church, their superiors and even the vows themselves. They vow to remain celibate. And they vow to a life of poverty; Franciscans theoretically (times have changed) own nothing personally. St. Francis forbade his friars from ownership of any property whatsoever. They were/are to live depending on God for everything.
Benedictine vows aren't the same. Benedictine monks and nuns vow to lives of stability, obedience and conversion of life. (See a note on friars v. monks at the end of this reflection.) Benedictines commit to stay in one place (their monastery) for their entire lives, be obedient to God, the church, their superiors, their vows and finally commit to 'conversion of life' sometimes called 'fidelity to the monastic way of life.' I like conversion of life better because it means constantly being 'converted' by God, constantly evolving. Like you and me.
So, what does that have to do with my retreat this week? Almost 40 years ago, in 1983, when I discovered the joy of monastic life and then concurrently realized the monastic life was not for me, I nevertheless made my own vows, my own commitments to God. I spent a lot of time looking at vows. I did a deep dive into the vows of the friars and monks, for example, and then went through a very intentional process to choose three words that would encapsulate how I hoped to live my life. Three words that would be my vows to God.
My vows require me to live a life of simplicity, compassion and peace. In these three promises, I think I encapsulated the monastic vows of both monks and mendicants and more importantly, now realize, encapsulated the promises you and I talk about all the time: to love one another, serve one another and follow Him. In short, they say I am to live simply, live with compassion to others - forgive and serve, and live peacefully, meaning nonviolently and in support of other people and mother earth. That was 40 years ago and the vows haven't changed.
Have I been perfect in living out my vows all the time? Ha! Not even close. But I think by keeping these three promises/vows in my mind, it helps me to try harder to do so.
Each year I find a way to go away for a while and take a look at my vows. Where have I succeeded in living into my vows? Where have I failed? And where do I need to change, make adjustments? In other words, while the vows - simplicity, compassion and peace - never change, how I commit to living those vows can change from year to year. This retreat is my chance to look at how I'm doing and make adjustments. I don't think I would be whole if I didn't do this review each year.
Do you have three words that define who you are and what you would like to be? If I asked you to come up with three words to define how you live your life, what would you say? Why not 'renew your vows' with me while I'm on retreat? Why not think about what your vows would be, if you made them? Take some time and really think about how you want to live your life and how you want others to see you living. You might find it an interesting and meaningful spiritual exercise.
And, as a parish? I hope we as a parish and each of us individually will vow to the eight words that define The Simple Jesus Way that we are about: love one another, serve one another, follow Him.
See you Sunday.