The Secrets of a Monk's Cell


#1

ronrolheiser.com/columnarchive/archive_display.php?rec_id=408

The Secret of a Monk’s Cell

Monks have secrets worth knowing, though sometimes the value of a certain secret isn�t immediately evident.

One such secret concerns the monk�s cell and the importance that classical spiritual writers attached to a monk staying inside his cell. For instance, Abba Moses, one of the great Desert fathers, would counsel his monks: “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” Other Desert fathers coined lines like: “Go, eat, drink, sleep, do no work, only do not leave your cell.” Or, “Don�t pray at all, just stay in your cell.” Thomas a Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ, famously wrote: “Every time you leave your cell, you come back less a man.”

Advice like this will probably strike us as unbalanced, unhealthily monastic, unhealthily ascetical, unhealthily other-worldly, or as simply unhealthy. At very least, it will strike us as having little or nothing to do with our own normal, busy, involved, red-blooded lives. What can advice like that possibly offer us? Aren�t we supposed to be in community with others?

Properly understood, the advice to stay in our cell and let it teach us everything offers some of the spiritual wisdom of the ages, of the masters. Staying inside our cell is one of the keys within the spiritual and human journey. But that needs to be understood in context.

This advice is being given to monks, to professional contemplatives, to persons living inside a monastic enclosure, to persons whose very vocation it is to live in solitude, to persons whose primary duty of state it is to pray in silence. In such a context, the word “cell” becomes a code-word that encapsulates the entire vocation and duties of state of a monk. Thus when Abba Moses says, “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything” he is, in effect, counselling due diligence and fidelity. Do what you came here to do! To remain in one�s cell is synonymous with fidelity.

[quote]…Our “monk�s cell” then is our marriage, our home, our nexus of relationships, our work, our private set of burdens and tensions, our truth, our virtue, and our personal integrity. The day�s duties are “your cell”. The spiritual task is to remain inside of that, to let them teach you, to let them be a form of prayer, to not flirt with what�s outside of them, and to make fidelity to them your vocation. Stay inside your cell!..

To conclude - HERE

[/quote]

This secret is something that St. Therese of Lisieux came to understand in a quite unique way and summarized in her “Little Way”. This same secret underpins the spirituality presented in “Abandonment to Divine Providence” by de Caussade.here


#2

Thank-You Barb…very cool.

Oh, BTW - Hi! :wave:

Hope all is well with you.

Peace

John


#3

Hi John:wave: …I thought it was a good article too. Some very devout Catholics can find it impossible to transfer the principals of spiritual, religious and monastic life to their own family lives and try to be monastics and religious in the family and some, I know, have caused problems in the family by doing so. They completely, thus, miss the opportunity and call to be saints present in their family lives and living. Most all our classical spiritual works have been written by and for professional monastics, while the underlying dynamics or principles can be transferred to lay and to family life. But this seems to be what many do find difficult to effect.

I am fine, by the way, and cruising along normally which has nothing ‘normal’ about it, whatever indeed normality may be:D

Barb:)


#4

Very nice post Barb! I finished reading the thing on the monk’s cell at the website you posted and I really enjoyed it. :slight_smile: I didn’t, however, read the thing on St. Therese. I may sometime soon though. :slight_smile:


#5

Woops! My mistake, Holly:o . The comments on St. Therese and her Little Way and Abandonment to Divine Providence were mine. The link I gave was to an online copy of Abandonment to Divine Providence. I did not make this clear!..Barb:o


#6

That’s ok Barb. :slight_smile:


#7

Barb… I have a question. Can a person, living in the world… but having a contemplative soul… think of his or her entire home… as their “cell”?

The monastic life is very appealing to me. But realistically, not possible right now. And I’d like to know how to carry the “spirit” of monastic life, into my present circumstances… of being a caregiver.

My room is very special to me. I do most of my praying there. But of course, it’s necessary for me to spend a great deal of time down with my mother, attending to her needs.

Any thoughts, would be appreciated. Thanks. God bless.


#8

Hi MV…“Cell” in this context is a ‘code word’ for one’s own state in life and its duties:

In such a context, the word “cell” becomes a code-word that encapsulates the entire vocation and duties of state of a monk. Thus when Abba Moses says, “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything” he is, in effect, counselling due diligence and fidelity. Do what you came here to do! To remain in one�s cell is synonymous with fidelity.

In other words, at this point in time, The Lord has called you to be fully the caregiver and in fulfilling this call you are fulfilling His Will and at this point, the highest sanctity you can achieve is as a caregiver and this is your cell. Of course, if you wish, you can think of your home as your cell, providing this does not in any way take away from you being fully caregiver and thinking of yourself as a caregiver.
There can be confusions I think about what a monk is all about. It is not only his formal prayer life and times, but the whole of his monastic life and all contained in it. If his duties ask that he uses his mind and concentrates on them, then that is his call from God. In other words, to try to be recollected and prayerful (if this distracts from his concentration) if his duties are asking that he fully concentrate on those duties only is contrary to God’s Will and is not meritorious in any way, nor any spiritual advantage in any way, nor is it instrinsically prayerful, but rather self indulgence. Our great mystic and saint, St. Teresa of Avila, sounds as if she was very often quite busy - and rightly since at the heart of the mystical is conformity to God’s Will in all things.

Blessings and regards…Barb:)


#9

*Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. *

Come Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, your well beloved spouse. Come Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, your well beloved spouse. Come Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, your well beloved spouse.

Thanks for posting! I’ve never heard of Abandonment to Divine Providence before, but it looks interesting. Have you read it? Do you know the history of the book?

Here are my favorite books and a prayer (Chaplet of Divine Mercy)
Devoting oneself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary:
True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin montfort.org.uk/Writings/TrueDev.html
Secret of the Rosary montfort.org.uk/Writings/Rosary.html
**Preparation for 33 day consecration to the Blessed Virgin **saintlouisdemontfort.com/consecration.cfm
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesusen.wikisource.org/wiki/Devotion_to_the_Sacred_Heart_of_Jesus#FIRST_POINT._.E2.80.94_The_ardent_desire_Jesus_Christ_feels_to_be_with_us.
Chaplet of Divine Mercyewtn.com/Devotionals/mercy/dmmap.htm

Jesus, I trust in you!! May this thread and all who grace it be glories to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary!!! May the Holy Spirit through the Immaculate Heart of Mary grace us with gifts of the Holy Spirit!! Jesus, I trust in you!! For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Jesus, I trust in you!!

Come Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, your well beloved spouse. Come Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, your well beloved spouse. Come Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, your well beloved spouse.

*Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. *


#10

“If his duties ask that he uses his mind and concentrates on them, then that is his call from God. In other words, to try to be recollected and prayerful (if this distracts from his concentration) if his duties are asking that he fully concentrate on those duties only is contrary to God’s Will and is not meritorious in any way, nor any spiritual advantage in any way, nor is it instrinsically prayerful, but rather self indulgence”.

Ah, ok. I get it. Thanks Barb. Your explanations are always so helpful.

I believe I understand what you’ve said. Now… I have to work on finding my “cell” more in my work. Since it is my work, which takes up the greater part of my day. Does that sound right?

Being more drawn to solitude, and prayer… my hectic days are usually very long and mentally exhausting. So… if I can train myself to offer this fatigue to God… then, I’ve found happiness in my cell?

I think that’s the message. Please correct me, if you feel I’ve misunderstood. Thanks and God bless.


#11

Hello AveSantaMaria…Although I have not read the actual works you mention, I have had a lifelong devotion to Our Lady, The Rosary and also to The Sacred Heart.

The best way to read about the work Abandonment to Divine Providence I think, is to read the Introduction
here
It would have to be my most favoured spiritual work in recent years and is a ‘bedside book’ - i.e. one to which I constantly refer. Certainly this work and probably more than any other other than the autobiography of St. Therese dramatically changed my life. I would rate de Caussade alongside St. Francis de Sales and Therese of Lisieux as the most gentle of spiritual directors.

Blessings and regards…Barb:)


#12

Hi MV…You have grasped the concept of “cell”. It must be a great suffering for you if you are drawn to solitude and quiet prayer to have to be constantly about care - this is a cross. Although if you do set about finding God and prayer in your cell, you just may find that the load is not so heavy. Prayer is not only when we are about prayer…prayer is our whole way of life encompassing everything in our life…in our cell. While to actually be alone, quiet and about prayer may be pleasing to you, God is asking otherwise.

I certainly hope however, that you do have means to take a break at least monthly or bi monthly for a day! Mentally and even physically you would probably need this - even if a friend came in to relieve you of the bulk of your duties while you relaxed - went out for a while. If this is impossible, then rest assured that you are always in God’s hands who will never ask more than we can give - we only think He does sometimes.

Blessings and my regards…Barb

.


#13

Barb,

Actually, I haven’t had a “day off” in over 5 years now. My mother and I are alone, in an eastern state… while our family lives in the west. About 2,000 miles from us. We have no one else here.

The other night, while talking to Jesus… I got a little bit upset with Him… and asked Him why He hasn’t sent me another pair of hands… to help me out. (I was very tired and cranky that night… lol. Poor Jesus… having to listen to me :rolleyes:

Well… I believe I got my answer this week. He has inspired us to start going to two more daily Masses. At Wednesday Mass… we will receive weekly “Sacrament of the Sick”.

So, I believe that was His response to my complaint. I asked for “another set of hands” and He has graciously given me HIS Hands… to help me carrying this cross, through more grace.

I love Him so much.


#14

I love Him so much

…and it shows and shines…


#15

Since you are speaking of monks and cells, this may help some who struggle with tears - maybe feel they are the only one.

EXPERIENCE OF PRESENCE: BITTER AND SWEET TEARS

The theme of tears is one of the characteristic themes of Syrian ascetical literature. Tears are also an integral part of Isaac the Syrian’s monastic spirituality.[1]

In Syriac, the word abila, which means ‘a mourner’, was used for designating a monk. According to Syrian tradition, a monk is primarily he who mourns for himself, for others, for the whole world. ‘A mourner (abila) is he who passes all the days of his life in hunger and thirst for the sake of his hope and future good things’, Isaac says. ‘A monk (ihidaya) is he who making his dwelling far from the world’s spectacles, has the desire of the world to come as the only entreaty of his prayer. A monk’s wealth is the comfort that comes of mourning…’[2] In accordance with the notion of a monk as a person whose main activity is mourning for sins, Isaac writes:

What meditation can a monk have in his cell save weeping? Could he have any time free from weeping so as to turn his gaze to another thought? And what occupation is better than this? A monk’s very cell and his solitude, which have a likeness to life in a tomb, far from human joys, teach him that his work is to mourn. And the very calling of his name urges and spurs him on to this, because he is called ‘the mournful one’ (abila), that is, bitter in heart… A monk’s consolation is born of his weeping…[3]

Mourning, according to Isaac, should be constant and unceasing. As one comes closer to the fruit of spiritual life tears become more and more frequent until they flow forth every day and every hour.[4] At the same time constant weeping is not yet the climax of the spiritual journey. The climax is, according to Isaac, the state wherein a person, under the influence of constant weeping, comes to the ‘peace of thought’ and spiritual rest: in this state tears become ‘moderate’. The dynamics of the transition from recurrent tears to constant weeping and then from constant weeping to the ‘moderate’ tears of the perfect is shown by Isaac in Homily XIV from Part I. Here Isaac suggests that the birth of the weeping of repentance in a person signifies his embarking upon the way to God. In the first stage of this way, the tears are temporary and recurrent, in the second they flow forth without ceasing, and in the highest, they come to a ‘measure’. Isaac considers this teaching of his as the faith of the whole Church:

When you attain to the region of tears, then know that your mind has left the prison of this world and has set its foot on the roadway of the new age, and has begun to breathe that other air, new and wonderful. And at the same moment it begins to shed tears, since the birth pangs of the spiritual infant are at hand. For grace, the common mother of all, makes haste mystically to give birth in the soul to the divine image for the light of the age to come.

While the infant has not yet been born, the tears come to a solitary from time to time, but when the infant is born, as long as he grows up the tears increase until they flow forth unceasingly: ‘the eyes of such a man become like fountains of water for two years’ time or even more, that is, during the time of transition’. After two years or more of transition, the person enters into the ‘peace of thought’ and the ‘rest’ of which St Paul spoke.[5] ‘When you enter into that region which is peace of the thoughts, then the multitude of tears is taken away from you, and afterwards tears come to you in due measure and at the appropriate time. This is, in all exactness, the truth of the matter as told in brief, and it is believed by the whole Church and by Her eminent men and front-line warriors’.[6]

The tears of repentance that are born in a person from the consciousness of sins are accompanied by a ‘bitterness of the heart’ and contrition. But the dynamics of the development of a person involves a gradual transition from this type of tears to another, to the sweet tears of compunction. The teaching on the two types of tears is expounded by Isaac in Homily XXXVII of Part I:

There are tears that burn and there are tears that anoint as if with oil. All tears that flow out of contrition and an anguish of heart on account of sins dry up and burn the body, and often even the governing faculty feels the injury caused by their outflow. At first a man must necessarily come to this order of tears and through them a door is opened unto him to enter into the second order, which is superior to the first; this is the sign that a man has received mercy. These are the tears that are shed because of insight; they make the body comely and anoint it as if with oil, and they pour forth by themselves without compulsion… The body receives from them a sort of nourishment, and gladness is imprinted upon the face. He who has had experience of these two alterations will understand.[7]

The tears of compunction which are accompanied by the feeling of spiritual joy are granted to someone when he reaches the state of the purity of heart and dispassion. These tears are a consequence of the fact that a person is deemed worthy of revelations from above and the vision of God. This is implied in the Beatitudes:

CONT


#16

Blessed, therefore, are the pure in heart,[8] for there is no time when they do not enjoy the sweetness of tears, and in this sweetness they see the Lord at all times. While tears are still wet in their eyes, they are deemed worthy of beholding His revelations at the height of their prayer; and they make no prayer without tears. This is the meaning of the Lord’s saying, ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted’.[9] For a man comes from mourning into purity of soul… All the saints strive to reach this entrance-way, because by means of tears the door is opened before them to enter the land of consolation, wherein the footsteps of the love of God are imprinted through revelations.[10]

Thus the tears of compunction which are born as a result of someone’s reaching the state of purity and dispassion lead him to the perfection of the love of God. The sign that a person has reached the love of God is his ability to shed tears every time when he remembers God:

Question: And whence does a man know that his has attained to the perfect love of God? Answer: When the recollection of God is stirred in his mind, straightway his heart is kindled by the love of Him and his eyes pour forth abundant tears. For love is wont to ignite tears by the recollection of beloved ones. A man who is in this state will never be found destitute of tears, because that which brings him to the recollection of God is never absent from him; wherefore even in sleep he converses with God. For love is wont to cause such things.[11]

Isaac often says that tears of compunction should accompany prayer. Tears during prayer are, according to him, a sign that a person’s repentance has been accepted by God.[12] When the gift of tears is granted to a person during prayer, the delight of these tears should not be counted as idleness.[13] A multitude of tears is born to a person in the life of stillness, ‘sometimes with pain, sometimes with amazement; for the heart humbles herself and becomes like a tiny babe, and as soon as she begins to pray, tears flow forth in advance of her prayer’.[14] According to Isaac’s testimony, tears during prayer were experienced by the majority of good monks of his time: ‘(A monk) may receive the gift of tears during the office - something which the majority of right-minded brethren experience - tears which so compel that brother with their quantity that he is unable to complete the office, even though he struggles greatly to do so: instead, he has to abandon the office because of abundant weeping…’[15]

We see that Isaac does not regard tears as an extraordinary gift, as a special charisma, of which only very few are counted worthy. On the contrary, he considers that the experience of tears is necessary for every Christian, not necessarily a monk.

Isaac does not always distinguish between the bitter tears of repentance and the sweet tears of compunction. Rather, two types of tears are the two sides of one medal, two aspects of one and the same experience. The tears of compunction, which are born from mystical insights, from the love of God and from deep humility, are joyful tears. At the same time they are accompanied by repentance, by the awareness of one’s own sinfulness, by ‘burning suffering’ and a contrite heart.

[5] Cf. Heb.4:3.
[8] Cf. Mat.5:8.
[9] Mat.5:4.
the full footnotes refer to chapters in the book


#17

For each of us, the ‘monk’s cell’ is our own inner Self, the part of us that was never born, will never die, and remains the impersonal Witness of all that happens. To me, this is the secret of the monk’s cell and its ability to teach us all we need to know. When we learn to rest in the Self, with our inner attention radiating outwards from the Stillpoint within, rather than from our attention residing somewhere outside our body, then we have learned the lessons of our own personal ‘monk’s cell’, whose transparent walls are composed of our grounded awareness of our body, mind, heart and laser-like attention to the present moment.


#18

[quote="MarieVeronica, post:7, topic:131132"]
Barb.. I have a question. Can a person, living in the world.. but having a contemplative soul.. think of his or her entire home.. as their "cell"?

The monastic life is very appealing to me. But realistically, not possible right now. And I'd like to know how to carry the "spirit" of monastic life, into my present circumstances.. of being a caregiver.

My room is very special to me. I do most of my praying there. But of course, it's necessary for me to spend a great deal of time down with my mother, attending to her needs.

Any thoughts, would be appreciated. Thanks. God bless.

[/quote]

The book, Poustinia, will show you how! Its great.


#19

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