What Is a Monk?

By Christine Valters Paintner

There is a story from the Desert Fathers where one asks another, "What is a monk?"  And the response was, "Someone who asks ‘what is a monk?' everyday."

Laurence Freeman, OSB at the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates in Rome began his talk on contemplation with this image and invited us as Oblates to consider the same possibility - that being an Oblate means asking ourselves, ‘What is an Oblate?' every single day.  I loved this definition shaped by a continual return to questions.  It embraces one of the central hallmarks of Benedictine life, which is a commitment to conversion.  Conversion of life means that we recognize we are always on a journey and have never fully arrived.  It means we are willing to allow God to surprise us and shake us from our complacency.  It means our identity is always evolving.

We might consider this definition for anything that is a meaningful part of our self-understanding.  Each day I ask myself what it means to be an Oblate in this moment in time - and I ask myself what it means to be an artist and writer, a friend and wife, a teacher and mentor.  I keep asking myself these questions because I recognize that the meaning of these dimensions of myself keep ripening and emerging with new discoveries about who I am and who God is.  I continue to live more deeply into who I am, and in the process I continue to become a monk.  I continue to deepen as a writer and artist.  I continue to learn how to love well as a friend.  I continue to discover new ideas moving through me and emerging in my teaching.

What is the identity to which you keep returning and discovering new dimensions?


This article originally appeared on the blog at www.AbbeyoftheArts.com and is reprinted with permission.

Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D. is a Benedictine Oblate and the founder and director of Abbey of the Arts, a non-profit ministry integrating contemplative practice with the expressive arts.  She teaches at Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry and also works as a spiritual director, retreat facilitator, writer, and artist. She is the co-author of Lectio Divina: Contemplative Awakening and Awareness from Paulist Press. Visit her website www.AbbeyoftheArts.com.

11/7/2009 5:00:00 AM
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