I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Elaine Pope’s reflection “Whole.”
John Wesley used the expression “going on to perfection.” For him, that meant growing more and more able to love God and love people as Jesus did (1 John 4:12). Christine Valters Painter signs her reflections, “with great and growing love.” I love that phrase, for it sums up for me what a monk in the world’s spiritual journey is all about, learning to love more: more deeply, more authentically, more people, oneself more, creation more often, God always.
Perfection is a daunting word, however, at least to me, and I think to others, as well. I prefer the word “whole.” For me, part of living in the world influenced by the monastic mindset is the quest to become fully and authentically who God created me to be. But being whole is hard to achieve in our North American 21st century culture.
I trained as a scientist and engineer and worked for 30+ years as a researcher in High Tech. I loved it. That life honed my abilities to wonder at the structure, order, variety, and the expanse of God’s creation. However, that was very much a lifestyle that gives preference to the mind. Even my spirituality became skewed. Faith was defined by how I cognitively believed church doctrines. When I retired and went to theological seminary, I discovered that I was not alone in my unbalanced experience of faith. Much of my recent spiritual journey has been reconnecting with my heart and even at gut-level. Faith is now my relationship with Jesus, the Spirit, and the Father. I want to love God with “all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:8, Matt. 22:37). This is not a new struggle, since Scripture describes so clearly the need to love God with emotion, intellect, will and, even body, to love with the whole me. I want to know and feel that God loves me totally, extravagantly, eternally; to be “God’s beloved” (Song of Songs 6:3). I desire to know God and be known with my whole being. I want that to spill over so I can “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39). That, as I understand it, is what it means to live as a monk in the world.
I have found that experiencing God in the daily, in the ordinary moments of my life, in the rhythms of creation, takes even more discipline and methodical practice than learning about God through studying. Understanding emotionally and spiritually what I experience takes dedicated reflection and the time to do so. Putting together the whole enchilada requires me to view the world holistically, that the separation between sacred and secular is one that we humans have made and is not part of God’s reality. I won’t say that I have become a retreat “junky” but I have found them to be necessary to maintain this very counter-cultural view of the world. God’s Kingdom is found in the communities of faith scattered throughout our nations across the globe. One of God’s miracles is I find I am able to connect deeply, even across continents.
I love the tools that allow me to reconnect with the Spirit’s wisdom already within me. I have been blessed to experience several communities that emphasize the rhythm of spirituality and the need for a personal Rule of Life. Communities offer us the gifts of shared insights, the wisdom of those who walk the path of faith with us. The blogosphere replaces the monastic chapterhouse. Abbey of the Arts has a unique emphasis on re-introducing the inner artist who speaks into the silence of the inner monk. Six months ago, I took my first Abbey of the Arts Online Retreat. The retreat provided the structure and psychological “permission” to slow down and to listen for God’s still small voice in new ways. I’m exploring what I feel about God, as well as what I think about God. One of the new spiritual disciplines that first retreat introduced to me was journaling in poetry. I started writing poetry again after 40 years and find the words flow when I open my mind to them. I picked up watercolor paints after a 20-year hiatus and find mystery dripping from the brush. I wobble and joyfully call it dancing. And I praise God for all good gifts. As I gain comfort with who I am holistically, the hole that opens in my attention span is wide enough for me to fall through into God.
And in God is perfect love. Together in the Abbey of the Arts community, we are seeking to love more by loving more. What I gain from this community I can take into my local congregational community and enhance the ministry I have with them. I think John and Charles Wesley would love the Order of Dancing Monks. I certainly do.
Elaine Pope serves as the Director of Adult Religious Formation for her church and has a private spiritual direction practice. Prior to her current career, Elaine retired from research engineering in the semiconductor industry. She uses her scientific and theological training to explore the global intersections of faith, technology, and society.