1500 Posts and Counting

For my 1500th blog post on iBenedictines, I thought I’d do something a little different and write about my readers. After all, what is the point of writing if no one reads? I don’t mean that the posts that attract the most attention are the most worthwhile — there are a number on here and on its predecessor Colophon that have been read by comparatively few — rather that unless a blog makes an effort to engage with people it really is no more than private journaling, which, as we all know, can be a trifle self-indulgent. It is the readers who make the effort of blogging worthwhile, who help determine the shape the blog takes and who ultimately spur one on to continue even when energy flags and inspiration seems sadly to seek. Sometimes it is not the most carefully crafted post that speaks to others but the apparently banal. And that is good to remember, because I blog as a Catholic and know that anything anyone finds of value here is the work of the Holy Spirit — and the Spirit is often more obvious in the comments than in the posts themselves.

So, who are my readers and why do I care about them? They come from all walks of life and from various faith traditions (or none). For years I had a charming Buddhist monk who rarely commented on the blog itself, and then only under a pseudonym, but who sent me thoughtful emails that I really had to think about before I dared reply. He has now withdrawn into deeper solitude and given up the use of the internet. I miss him. Then there are the F.C.s, the frequent commenters, a lovely bunch who sometimes write comments twice as long as the original post but who dare to share much of their own experience with a humility and frankness I find both touching and inspiring. There are the B.B.s, the belligerent battleaxes, who occasionally swoop down and deal what they hope is a knock-out blow but who often find themselves wrong-footed by one of the F.C.s. I like to think that this blog provides a safe space where people can say what they like provided they observe the two guiding principles: no personal attacks and no profanity or blasphemous language. The B.B.s thwart these principles at their peril, for I am not above using the moderator’s power to edit out a nasty gibe or refuse to permit a comment that is libellous.

I admit to great fondness for the S.L.s, the silent lurkers, who, from time to time, will shyly emerge from their hidden places in cyberspace and add a comment or share a reflection that is nothing less than pure gold. If only they realised how much they give to others, especially me! I am also very fond of the O.Q.s, the open questioners, who ask for explanations and ways of probing deeper into the subject on hand. Often they inspire further reflection or even radical rethinking of a position previously held. Bless them for it! Then there are the C.E.s, the constant encouragers, without whom no blogger would persist very long. They include a surprising number of agnostics and atheists who regard questions of faith as valid matter for discussion and argument and do so with a courtesy and a thoroughness that puts us all in their debt.

Finally, of course, there are the D.L.s, the dog-lovers, who read Bro Duncan PBGV’s posts while he was here on earth and now follow his and Bro Dyfrig BFdeB’s correspondence now that he is Beyond. Where would we be without you?

For all my readers, I am grateful. Please go on being as interesting, thoughtful, challenging and sometimes infuriating as you have been. Then I can continue to blog.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Be More Dog by Bro Duncan PBGV

I was snoozing quietly in my basket the other day when I overheard Them discussing an opinion voiced by Pope Francis. Apparently, he was comforting a little chap who’d just lost his best (doggy) friend. Our pets go to paradise, said the pope. Immediately, a storm broke out all over t’internet, with some arguing along with Aquinas that dogs don’t have souls so can’t go to heaven and the pope is a heretic and deserves to roast in the fires of hell, and others asserting equally roundly that the pope should define it as an article of faith that dogs do go to heaven as they often live better lives than humans do. I’m not sure where My Lot stand. They tend to get all theological and invoke words like ‘mystery’ and ‘transcendent reality’ and add lots of qualifiers and stuff.

Of course, it is all quite simple, really. Dogs were created so humans could learn the importance of values like love and fidelity, which they are not always good at. We teach little humans important things like eating everything on their plates and sleeping soundly wherever they happen to be. We teach old humans they are infinitely loveable and delightful to be with. We teach the middle-aged ones the importance of fresh air and  exercise, and you’re never too creaky to have fun. I don’t know about heaven up above, but I do know that humans could make life on earth a bit more heavenly if they all tried to be more dog — live in the moment, and be grateful for everything. That’s not a bad message for Advent, is it? Be More Dog.

🙂

Love,

Dunc xx

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Saturday Morning Graces

Sunshine skittering through the branches of the apple trees; points of light glittering  on the nut tree; sparrows holding their chapter meeting in the barn eaves; daffodils bending in the breeze; the dark pink tilth of the fields smelling sweetly; a cock crowing loudly; pied wagtails dipping and dancing on the lawn; the smell of beeswax from the oratory; guests stirring lazily in the West End of the monastery; Bro Duncan PBGV imploring a morning walk; the warm silence which follows Lauds. For all these gifts of your giving, Lord, we give thanks.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Time Off

By eight o’clock this morning I had made my prayer, done half an hour’s lectio divina, prayed Vigils and Lauds in community, written a column for The Universe, answered half a dozen emails, updated our Facebook page with a prayer intention, tweeted, had breakfast and said good morning to Bro Duncan PBGV. And that is the ‘non-work’ part of the day! I think you will understand why I am keen that we should relax the pace for a day or two, but how? We cannot lessen our prayer; we cannot turn visitors away; we must still shop, cook, eat, wash our clothes, do the housework, just like anybody else. We must still do the work that provides much of our income or the bills won’t get paid and our charitable outreach will fizzle out; we must still try to respond to the many enquiries, comments and appeals for help that come to us via the internet because that’s a commitment we have taken on.

I suspect many of you are smiling to yourself, ‘Welcome to my world.’ Change just a few of the obligations, or the times at which they occur, and I’m sure most of you, unless you are now retired, have exactly the same sense of pressure. It is one of the hallmarks of life in the twenty-first century. We either have no work, or too much. Too much to do, too little time: no wonder we feel tired.

I have no magic answer. The best I can do is share with you a  little trick I myself make use of constantly. Forget the idea of long, lazy hours of leisure: they will never happen, unless you are lucky enough to be able to afford a holiday. Try instead to cultivate brief moments of silence and awareness throughout the day. Stop for a moment and look out of the window. Note the light and shade, the white line of the horizon, the sound of footfalls on the pavement perhaps, or the swish of tires as cars pass by; smell the air, wet with rain or smokey with diesel; maybe touch the surface of the windowsill and feel the grain of the wood. Register all these for a moment, and then say ‘thank you, God.’ Nothing more is necessary. If you can’t get out, just look at whatever is around you now, as though seeing it for the first time, and say ‘thank you’.

If we live each day in a spirit of gratitude, with short moments of prayer woven into the fabric of our lives, I believe we can cope with most things. We may still get tired, become grumpy, make mistakes, feel down or out of sorts. Prayer isn’t a ‘solution’ to any of these. It doesn’t protect us from life. It opens us up to Life itself.

Another perspective
For another view of things, do read the Revd Stephen Cherry’s blog post (which I had missed). I think only no. 8 applies to monasteries, but there are some very helpful ideas in his list: http://bit.ly/X82r4I.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Happiness and Gratitude

I used to think that happy people were grateful people, but I’ve come to realise it’s the other way round. Grateful people are happy people. One sees this in the monastery. We spend much of our time thanking and praising God — not for any particular thing, but simply because he IS God. That is why visitors often remark on what wonderfully happy people monks and nuns are. We’re grateful, and it shows. (Conversely, the ungrateful monk or nun is a real pain, both to self and community; but that’s another matter.)

Today our friends in the U.S.A. are celebrating Thanksgiving. We join with them in thanking God for the many blessings he has bestowed on them and through them and pray that they may never lose their sense of gratitude for all the gifts they have received. Today is also the feast of St Cecilia, so we thank God for the gift of music and the way in which it enhances our lives and our worship. We give thanks for the ceasefire between Gaza and Israel; we give thanks for another day to be lived in the presence of God and his angels; we give thanks that we CAN give thanks in any and all circumstances (the triumph of grace over nature). If only we had the eyes to see the huge smile that spreads across the face of the universe when we give thanks, we might try being grateful more often.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Compassion

Compassion is a quality we recognize in others but are hard put to explain. It is more than sympathy (literally, feeling with), it is actually suffering with another. It is just as well that compassion comes as a gift, because I don’t think any of us would be brave enough to ask for it if we really thought what it means. There’s nothing warm and cuddly about compassion, although when we are on the receiving end, we do feel bundled up in love and warmth. Why not spend a few minutes today thinking about the occasions when you’ve experienced compassion from others and give thanks for them. Grace grows in proportion to gratitude, we are told. We might even become compassionate ourselves.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Not Proud, Just Grateful

I have a confession to make. I am not proud to be English; I am not proud to be Catholic; I’m not even proud to be a Benedictine; but I am supremely grateful to be all three. The current fashion for saying one is ‘proud’ to be this, that or the other leaves me cold. I’m never sure whether the being proud is an attempt to claim greatness by association or simply a way of saying politely ‘ya, boo and sucks to you!’ I daresay it can be both — and more. Pride and gratitude both arise from a deep sense of satisfaction, but with this difference: pride is centred on self and gratitude on the other; one looks inward, the other outwards. Could that be why the Christian tradition has never been very keen on pride but always loved gratitude? As our American friends say, go figure.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Other Kinds of Debts

The word ‘debt’ has become synonymous with ‘Eurozone crisis’, ‘Greece’, ‘recession’ and ‘default’. It conjures up visions of grey suits and number-crunching, police in riot gear, austerity and anxiety. There are other kinds of debts, however, and it can be good to remember them. Here is a random list of some of mine which you can compare with your own:

I am indebted to my ancestors, not just my parents, for pretty well everything attributable to nature and nurture, from my awkwardness of person to love of country, language and Faith; to my first teachers, for opening up the mysteries of reading, writing and arithmetic, so making possible the intellectual discoveries of later years; to friends, for rubbing a few rough edges off me and enriching life with their kindness and giftedness; to my employers, for convincing me that I was not cut out to be a banker for ever; to my community, for accepting me and showing me the possibility of holiness; to those I meet online or off, who challenge or comfort, as occasion demands.

These are debts that cannot be measured in pounds and pence but which shape our lives as much, if not more than, economic circumstances; and the interesting thing is that they are debts we can acknowledge gratefully, even gladly. Each one of us is capable of repaying them, if we are willing to make the effort. That is part of the glory of being human.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Blessings Awareness Day

I have ‘Awareness Day’ fatigue. Too many good causes ask me to be ‘aware’ of this or that, to give my time, energy, money or what you will; to tweet or wear a ribbon; it is all too much. Apparently, today is, among other things, Bread Awareness Day. That set me thinking. Bread  is so important, a blessing in itself. Blessed and broken, it is a feature of most meals; consecrated and shared out in the Mass as the Body of Christ, it sustains both body and soul. So I hereby declare today Blessings Awareness Day, a day to acknowledge our blessings and give thanks for them. Nothing more is required, but it should put a smile on your face and laughter in your heart.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Gracious Living

While shopping yesterday I noticed, almost subliminally, how many magazine covers deal with ‘gracious living’. Judging by the accompanying illustrations, gracious living could be summed up as a large house, swimming pool, fast car and plenty of alcohol. Add in permatan, perfect dentition and expensive clothes, and there you have it. Or rather, you don’t.

Gracious living surely has to do with grace, from the Latin gratia, and has its origins in what is pleasing and thankful. You will notice how many of the comments on yesterday’s post about living with uncertainty mention, either explicitly or implicitly, the notion of gratitude. For a Christian, there is the further sense of grace as a divine gift, the free and unmerited favour of God. St Benedict is very keen on mindfulness of God, the sense that at every moment we are upheld by God’s mercy and love which inspire an answering response of gratitude and delight.

There is another meaning of grace often overlooked but rich in meaning: the short prayer of blessing and gratitude said before and after eating. A tiny, almost insignificant act in itself, it reminds us of God’s presence and action in our lives. Saying grace before we eat our baked beans won’t turn them into a gourmet delight, but it will make their consumption an act of gracious living.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail