Much of the idea of monastic spirituality is particularly attentive to establishing a sense of sacred time(kairos) and sacred space (temenos). Spiritual practice consists of tuning oneself to be in harmony with the Earth and its seasons.- very much like the Pythagorean communities of 6th century BCE. the Via Media or Middle Way is extremely important: balancing the spiritual and physical needs, the head and the hear of the human being and finding a place of union or at-onement. The opening words of the Rule of St Benedict are : "Listen my child, with the ear of your heart, to the words of one who loves you". Benedict described his Rule as a "little book for beginners" and refers the more advanced to the works of John Cassian: the Institutes and the Conferences that we encountered yesterday, written at La Baume.
The motto of Benedictine life is "Ora et Labora", meaning "pray and work" , the twin pillars of this ancient form of spirituality. "Ora" first and foremost was the Divine Office, the eight intervals throughout the day when the chapel bells would ring to call the community to silence and song. The foundation of Benedictine prayer life was the chanting of all 150 psalms over the course of each week. The psalms are the very words that Jesus himself knew by heart ( his last words on the cross were quoting Psalm 22). These form the basis for the vast and magnificent repertoire of what we call Gregorian or Benedictine chant-
We visited two of the three " Cistercian sisters" founded by Bernard of Clairvaux: Thoronet and Senanque Abbeys, both with perfect acoustics based on sacred geomtry that allows the softest sounds to be clear and echo through the spare and serene architecture.
The first abbot of Thoronet was Folquet de Marseilles. family man and troubadour, he had a midlife spiritual awakening that propelled him into the monastic life. Dante Alighieri has both Folquet and Bernard of Clairvaux appear as characters in the Divine Comedy in Paradise.
Catherine sang for us another song by a troubadour- monk Gautier de Coincy. There is great controversy about who is the "Lady" in troubadour music. Is it the Virgin Mary? Mary Magdalene? Sophia? Simple the Archetypal Divine Feminine? I am not sure it matters, but the references to "tower" in the following song are suggestive, as "Magdalene (Migdel)" does in fact mean "tower" and Medieval legends praised the "honey tongues" of Mary Magdalene's preaching.
Efforcier m'estuet ma voiz Gautier de Coincy (1177-1236), monk and troubador Refrain : Mother God, have mercy on my meager soul My voice is compelled to rise in song, when I recall the one who is the spring and river wherefrom all good flows, whoever feels not love and awe for you, is too full of fear. O Mother of God, you are sweeter than honey, take away my bitterness, O beautiful, sweet Lady! You are the tower who defends from the devil and his tricks your servants and your friends. So powerful are his treacheries the deceptive enemy that we would all be lost, vanquished and overwhelmed without your great bounty. From our deepest heart, may we praise you and your son without end, without end, without end, O beautiful, sweet Lady!
Psalm 139: O God, you have searched me, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths of hell, you are there also . If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 1even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand-- when I awake, you are with me still .
Sister of Bethlehem in Thoronet, praying the Psalms
Recommended Reading and Viewing:
The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, Joan Chittester Benedict's Dharma: Buddhist Reflections of the Rule of St Benedict, ed. Patrick Henry Genessee Diary, Henri Nouwen- a gorgeous journal of a professor's life-changing experience at a monastery Esther de Waal has written many fine books on Benedictine Spirituality Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, Thich Nhat Hanh Into the Great Silence, a documentary film about the austere Chartreuse Monastery in France
Above is the chant Salve Regina- one of the four seasonal hymns to Mary that ends each evening in traditional Benedictine monasteries. It is the last human sound monks and nuns here before entering into The Great Silence.