Yesterday at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit’s lay associates gathering day, I attended a class in which we considered a document called Lay Cistercian Identity, drawn up at an international gathering of Cistercian lay associates in Spain two years ago. We particularly examined a list of “Cistercian values and practices” commended to laypersons as “a means of liberation and internal conversion.” These values and practices include:
- Prayer and praise
- Confidence and abandonment to God
- Simplicity of Life
- A Balanced Life
- Silence and Solitude
- Hospitality and Service
Although there seems to be some overlap, it may be wise to consider nuances here: ‘simplicity of life’ may refer to simplicity in external matters (few possessions), whereas basic ‘simplicity’ may signify a more interior clarity and lack of complexity.
Even if you are not a lay monastic associate or interested in becoming one, I think this list is worthy of consideration. Some values, like poverty and chastity, may seem counter-intuitive to the spirit of our age. That alone appeals to me, aging subversive that I am. And while I don’t believe we are all called to the same degree of austerity as a saint like Mother Teresa, perhaps a bit more austerity would do most of us some good. Indeed, in today’s economy, many of us have had simplicity of life, austerity and even poverty thrust upon us. When this happens, we may as well try to find some spiritual value in it!
What I love about this list is the idea that it links “internal conversion” with “liberation.” We are called to be free: “know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Culturally speaking, we associate freedom with the ability to make our own economic or political choices. Freedom means nobody gets to tell me what to do. Here is rather a different notion of freedom, a liberation not merely from outside economic or political forces, but from our own inner attachments, addictions, compulsions, and sin. And while we may react harshly agains the idea that “obedience” is linked to freedom, perhaps if we recall that true obedience means listening to God and God’s will in our lives, perhaps this can help us sort out the distinctions between freedom and how we relate to the structures of power in our lives.
May we all be led by the gentle hand of the Spirit into ever-increasing liberation.