Monastic Strategies: Are We Making a World of Difference?

Monastic Strategies: Are We Making a World of Difference? August 10, 2021


Monastic Strategies: Making a World of Difference

A World of Difference

Some people I know believe monastic communities are about turning our backs on the world. They might choose to spend some quiet, reflective time at a monastery getting away from everyday life. It is like taking a spiritual nap or a vacation, not a way of making a world of difference.

It is the people I know who live in monastic communities who understand how to make a difference in the world.

Many of the people I know living monastic lives pray each day for particular people or places. They may be people they have met or places they have visited.

Some pray for the places where they were born. Others pray for people or places they have read about or are connected to online. Yes, I know monks who are on social media. They are not running away or trying to hide.

Making a difference is important to me. I used to believe I could make a difference by having my facts straight, presenting them forcefully, and smiling. My aspiration was to be the kind of person who motivated people. I was good at understanding how systems and people worked. My hope was to be someone who found ways to get things to work well together.

I was able to work with insight and communicate what I saw in ways which persuaded people.

It was important for me to find ways for groups and organizations to work together better. I found ways to change things which made helpful differences.

The things I did and people with whom I worked made a difference. I began to understand there were more important and helpful differences to make.

Are We Making a World of Difference?

One of the places where I worked was a nonprofit criminal justice reform organization.

We recruited, trained, and organized volunteers in different states to work toward reform goals in their state. One of the challenges of what I did was ensuring the projects volunteers wanted to work on fit into our overall agenda.

In some states we worked primarily on legislative proposals, advocating particular legislation. Some states were more about developing and implementing innovative programs.

In several states we helped establish programs to mediate between people who committed crimes and people victimized in those crimes. We trained volunteer mediators and helped them sit down with nonviolent or juvenile offenders and people they had harmed.

Those mediation experiences brought a world of difference to how I understood crime and justice.

The conversations we had were not about the things which had concerned me as a criminal prosecutor. People were much more practical and more personal.

Gradually I began to recognize how a mediator could make a world of difference more than a prosecutor.

People were not looking for someone to speak for them. They were trying to find a place it was safe for them to speak for themselves.

My experiences as a mediator, and the insights I gained from them, were steps on my path toward a different world.

Making a difference in the world is not about telling other people what to believe. We make more of a difference by listening and giving people opportunities to reflect on their own stories.

Some of my steps toward monastic life happened when I was introduced to contemplative practices like centering prayer and lectio divina. My personal practices encouraged me to explore Benedictine spirituality. I read everything I could find, visited monasteries and retreat centers, and asked questions.

My explorations helped me discover a way of understanding and an approach to making a world of difference.

Making a World of Difference

The way I understand spiritual life has more to do with mediation and reconciliation than with domination.

As a spiritual director I help create a safe place for people to take time to reflect on their stories. I listen and ask the most insightful questions I can. It is not about persuading anyone of anything or convincing them to agree with me.

When I am doing my work well it is like holding up a mirror so someone can reflect on what they tell me.

I believe helping people recognize what they might have missed before makes a world of difference.

Together we take a deep breath and slow down enough to pay attention to what we are saying. Our reflection begins in the short amount of time we spend together; it continues as we continue reflecting.

My hope is the time we spend together helps people become more reflective in the time between our times together. In the same way, the practices which structure my monastic life help me become more contemplative during the rest of my day.

I am no longer passing laws or setting up programs, but making a difference one person at a time.

World of Difference in Myself

I hope, and believe, the person in whom I make the most difference is myself.

The path I am following, which is shaped by spiritual life, is a path toward healing and wholeness. It can spark pain and frustration, but is drawing me into something deeper.

Our world can be a challenging place. We make mistakes and take turns which can lead us away from where we hope to go. It is important for us to take time for contemplation, to remember and reflect on what we have done.

Some of us need to become better at listening to ourselves. We may need to be more discerning or better at being patient. Each of us has ways in which we can grow and apply what we hear as we listen to ourselves.

The time we take for remembering and contemplation is a significant investment for us. Paying attention to our own stories reminds us of their value. If we do not listen to our own stories, how will we learn the lessons they have for us?

Taking time to listen and reflect can make a world of difference to who we are becoming.

How are we making a world of difference today?

Where will we make a world of difference in ourselves this week?

[Image by virtusincertus]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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