From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light
Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior that every single day he made a fresh beginning
ne of the most difficult, but most seasoning, elements of life is simply the fine art of getting up every morning, of doing what must be done if for no other reason than that it is our responsibility to do it. To face the elements of the day and keep on going takes a peculiar kind of courage. It is in dailiness that we prove our mettle. And it is not easy.
The easy thing is to run away from life. Anyone can do it, and everyone at one time or another wants to. Living through the sterile and the fruitless cycles of life earns no medals, carries no honor. The temptation is to put down the hard parts, to disappear from the heat of the day, to escape from the dullness of the daily, from its pressures and its dry, barren routines when life looks so much more exciting, so much more rewarding, somewhere else.
Few, in the end, ever go, of course. But simply staying where we are because there is nowhere else to go is not the answer. What makes the difference is to stay where we need to be with a sense that dailiness is the real stuff of contemplation. Then the staying becomes more than bearable; it becomes possible.
Regularity has been a mark of the spiritual life in every century, in every tradition. The Rule of Benedict is built on an ordo of prayer, work, and reading that forms the backbone of every day of the monastic life. Why? Because the spiritual life is meant to be dull? No, because the spiritual life is meant to be constant, meant to be centered. The dailiness of spiritual practices, the practices of daily life, focus the heart and concentrate the mind. Incessant agitation, unending variety, constant novelty, a torrent of gadgetry, a life filled with the strange and the unfamiliar irritate the soul and fragment the inner vision.
Dailiness, routine, sameness frees the heart to traffic in more important matters. The desert monastics wove baskets every day of their lives to earn alms for the poor – and, when the baskets went unsold, unbraided them and began again. The purpose was to occupy the body and free the mind. Mindless work – mowing the lawn, sweeping the sidewalk, washing the windows – is not a burden when the mind is full and the heart like a laser beam finds its way to God. We wait for retreats, services, grand gatherings to take us to God, and God is with us all the while. We are just too preoccupied, too disassociated to notice. We run from place to place and thing to thing, we skirt from idea to idea and do not recognize God in the humdrum of the day to day. We give our souls no rest and find them dying from spiritual starvation when we need them most.
Dailiness frees us for the things of God. The important thing is to prepare the mind by prayer and reading, to make the routine parts of life periods of reflection, so that God can be present in mechanical moments in conscious ways. Every day the contemplative makes a new beginning, tries again to plumb the meaning of life, disappears again into the heart of God so present in the world around us if we only realize it. To be a contemplative there must be time for God. The routine parts of life, the dull parts of every day – the commute, the cleaning, the cooking, the waiting times – are gifts of space. Then, while the world goes on around us, the thoughts of God take hold within us. Then we are ready for the chaos that comes with variety, with gadgets, with change, with the whirl of a world in motion.
To be a contemplative we must remember to begin again, day after day, to turn dailiness into time with God.