I had a long mew with Amma last week. She’s concerned that there are Cloister members who are straying from their deeper purpose – to love God and others and to follow the guidance of the Rule. Aware of Benedict’s instructions to the superior to “exercise the utmost care and concern for the wayward” (RB 27.1), Amma asked me to prepare a chapter presentation that would help the members refocus on their vocation using a positive message rather than one which chided them.
I’m putting together a PawerPoint presentation to be shown via Zoom. Please join me as I share the story of what is going on and mew some thoughts as I work on this presentation. Each one of us, feline and human, can learn from these straying Benedictines. Is there anyone among us who does NOT get distracted from our life with God or fly off on some kind of tangent?
Sr. Maggie mews: “I used a close-up of a real cricket first. Amma freaked out.
Happy Cricket is my fallback.”
It all started with crickets.
Last summer the back of the cloister garage was a-chirp with these little hoppers. Big crickets, mediums-sized crickets, and tiny baby crickets. How they got into the garage, let alone why they stayed there, is still a mystery.
Br. Ricky mewed to me that sometimes the din of cricket chirping kept cloister felines awake during their usual post noon meal naps.
“But after Sext and their meal, they may rest on their beds in complete silence.” (RB 48.5)
A Monastic Snack
One day while in her office Amma heard an unfamiliar “plip…plip…plip.” After looking all over the floor trying to figure things out, Amma realized the plip was from a hopping cricket. How this cricket got in was a mystery. The seal is around the door to the garage near Amma’s office is super tight.
There was no mystery for Sr. Nikki, however. The unfortunate springing chirper became a midday snack. That snack launched an obsession for Sr. Nikki. Given any opportunity, she now bolts into Amma’s office in anticipation of a crunchy treat, forgetting Benedict’s instruction.
“No one is to presume to eat or drink before or after the time appointed.” RB 43.18
There she remains transfixed, staring at the floor radiator under which she had found that first unfortunate little cricket.
Sr Nikki waiting for a cricket
“Maybe there’s one here?”
“Or here where I found the first one?”
Crickets Take Over!
Sr. Nikki’s time and energies now focus on snacking and not on her job as porter of the cloister. Amma shared that Sr. Nikki was not doing daily reading of Scripture and that her prayer life had been pawed aside.
What is Nikki’s priority now? Not God, not her vocation, not being porter. Nikki’s priority is a cricket snack.
This is hard for me to understand because we already have two kinds of cooked food every day as Benedict instructs in the chapter on the proper amount of food. (RB 39.1)
Crickets Emerge in Various Forms
Sr. Nikki isn’t the only distracted feline here in the Cloister. Crickets, i.e., a mis-aligned priority, take many forms.
Br. Ricky has a lot of responsibilities and works hard on all of them. This wears him out and makes him feel depleted for lack of rest and spiritual refreshment. Perhaps his cricket is trying too hard?
Sr. Espy is obsessed with food, that’s her cricket. She gets carried away with her role of managing the culinary supplies of the Cloister, continually arranging and rearranging the supplies. All this opens her to temptation, as she sniffs and snacks. Sr. Espy forgets an important instruction to the cellarer – to be “not an excessive eater” (RB 31.1).
Sr. Espy attacking the treat bag to distribute food…to herself.
I asked Amma Jane about her personal cricket. Without hesitation she responded, “The Tyranny of Time! I don’t want to actually blame time. My cricket is more like angst over time, which sure takes the joy out of doing anything.” I mewed in understanding.
Amma continued, “This angst pulls me from the present moment as I spring into anxiety about what I need to do. Will I get everything done, will it all be good enough, and, of course, what won’t get done! I forget that all I am about is to be for God, with God, and in God. And this means focusing on the present moment, where God is, right now, as we are talking and mewing.”
Espy fixated on a hopeless task as Sr. Nikki looks on. The treat bag is in the closet, but she can’t get at it. Time to back off.
Our Personal Crickets
We all lose our way now and then. We become fixed on something that is not in line with our deepest desires. Whatever it is – tasks, thoughts, busyness, worries – steers us in an unhealthy direction and away from God.
These crickets can pull us away from our responsibilities, too. Still pursuing a possible cricket, Sr Nikki missed last week’s Chapter (a meeting of the Cloister) at which she was to give a presentation on the importance of having God at the center of your life!
Think about your own life. Is there something that is currently consuming you in not so positive ways? Is it a task? Is there something you are doing that is frustrating and going nowhere, but you keep on trying, anyway? (See Sr. Espy’s video) Is it something you constantly think about that leaves you in knots?
What is your “personal cricket?”
Making A Course Correction
Nikki, Ricky and Espy make me wonder about this – what if we were equally intent in our life with God? That like Nikki we would sit still in hope, waiting for God to feed us with grace and strength. That like Br. Ricky we would work really hard in developing our relationship with God, giving it our all. Or that like Espy, we would put forth monumental effort in the face of obstacles to reach for the goal of turning our hearts to God. Benedict says that even the superior is to seek God first.
I’ve decided to ask some gentle question and invite Cloister felines and novices to take a look at their lives. I invite you to join them.
What is most important to you right now? Is this in line with your deepest desires?
What gets in the way of living your priority? Where are you distracted?
What might you do to refocus your energies on what you want your life to be about?
I will stress that the spiritual life is never easy. The Evil One is always seeking to derail us. Benedict is well aware of this danger and offers suggestion in the Rule to help us stave off the personal “crickets” that distrub us and can put up a wall between ourselves and God.
“They have foiled the evil one at every turn, flinging both the devil and these wicked promptings far from [the] sight [of their hearts]. While these temptations were still “young, the just caught hold of them and dashed them against Christ” (Ps 15:4, 137:9).
Benedict asks us to be very aware of ourselves and how we are living and spending our time. “…we must be vigiliant every hour” (RB 7.29). In “…the Prayer too we ask God that God’s will be done in us.” (Matt 6:10; RB 7.20)
But the most important message is hope that, with God’s grace and help, we will stay the course.
“Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” Prologue 48-49
Thank you for reading my first article. I know that you are busy, so I appreciate the time you took to be with me. It was fun!
All in the Cloister send their mews of greeting. My human, Jim, says Hello, too.
Your Florida friend,
Sr. Maggie, OSB-F