Time to hear from another of our amazing Wisdom Council members! I first met Richard Bruxvoort Colligan through his wife, Trish (another Wisdom Council member) several years ago in my very early time of blogging (under the name Sacred Art of Living – a few of you are still around from those days!) I fell in love with the music they co-created as River's Voice (which has been featured in several Abbey online retreats), and then got to work with them in person at the Spiritual Directors International conference in San Francisco, and fell in love with both of them even more. I love how they live out their partnership and they each have their own distinct work as well. Richard has been working for several years on songs around the Psalms (and I am delighted he will be releasing a new album very soon of Taize-style Psalm songs). Read on for Richard's reflections about being a monk in the world:
Primates, Eunice and the Psalms: Being a Monk in the World
When I was six, I took piano lessons. My teacher once told me a story about a devoted monk who practiced daily his craft of calligraphy. Though I’m sure she intended this to inspire me as a student, I hadn’t the faintest idea what a monk was. My little mind scanned my imagination and grabbed the closest image I could find: a monk-ey.
Yeah, that story didn’t make much sense to me.
For me, being a monk in the world means something stupidly simple: following one’s nature. Which, turns out, means practice. Both the “practice makes perfect” sense– training ourselves in what is most important– and the “practicing medicine” sense– there’s no getting it perfect, it’s just what we do as part of our livelihood.
Following one’s nature seems to come easy for our dog Willow, and for the ox in the Zen koan “Ten Oxherding Pictures.” Newborn babies seem to have no trouble either. Is it just me, or is living true to one’s nature a challenge for most of us?
It’s probably a human thing to struggle with individuality. When we know uniqueness, there is a reverence for every piece of creation’s array and a clarity of personal purpose, yet we fear being self-centered. When we know our sameness with all humanity, there’s a natural humility that opens way to blessed company, yet we fear being like everyone else.
Which is why we practice. Your unequalled Youness is a gift to the world (Who’s Eunice?) and also a pain in the ass. Your Youness brings what’s real to people and allows them to evolve. However they respond to your presence, this practice of being-doing a Unique You is important, and perhaps even life-or-death essential.
In the midst of what would become known as the Reformation, Martin Luther had a famous response to his critics: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Now there’s a guy who knows his Eunice.
Our dog Willow is a curious, loyal and comical canine. She enjoys certain kinds of treats, she likes to be scratched around her neck and is deathly afraid of the vacuum cleaner. She enjoys dancing and has wonderfully expressive eyebrows. She’s really good at being herself, and I don’t think she even thinks about it.
Thomas Merton wrote that a tree gives glory to God by being a tree. Don’t you love being around people who know who they are?
In case it’s helpful in your own story, let me describe the Richard-nature I practice and must do no other.
I love moments of discovery. I am consistently enthralled with music and songwriting. I enjoy laughter, blue, James Taylor, sangria, naps, Star Wars and a good bosc pear. I enjoy movies and popcorn. I’m fond of reading Gretel Ehrlich, Paul Tillich and Thomas Moore. I love sex with my wife. I tend toward introversion and I enjoy being part of a family. Try as I might, I cannot bring myself to like olives, museums and most jazz. My favorite word is “lotion,” and dark chocolate is almost as good as the aforementioned sex.
In attempting to follow my nature, I’ve noticed that one particular activity consistently brings me into alignment with joy, transformation and purpose. Some might call this a spiritual practice.
For the last nine years it has been immersion in the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible. When I am studying, singing and teaching the Psalms, there is nowhere I’d rather be. I’m a joyfully devoted monk-ey.
But being in the Psalms has also wrecked a whole lot of my life. Giving myself to them has been exceedingly difficult at times as my ideas have been dared to expand.
To be a monk in the world is a brave thing. It’s transforming the world.
However you play out your own spiritual practice, it’s for us a riverstream of concentrate to respond to. It help us practice our unique natures, and break through to more of it that is whole-ing our own life as well as the world.
I’m wondering if someday the Psalms will give way to some new thing for me. I’m wondering where your monkey-in-the-world Eunice most desires right now?
I’m grateful for the Abbey as a place of community for us. Here’s to being monks in the world together. *Clink*