In our morning chapter meetings we are reading an article by Demetrius Dumm, OSB, “On Religious Community.” It was published in Benedictines, in 1976. Dumm was a Scripture scholar from St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He was steeped in the Benedictine way of life. The quote below caught my attention this week.
“In those large areas of human experience that can be described as ambiguous, the believer will assume the presence of goodness. This assumption allows the latent goodness to appear and the situation can be ‘redeemed.’” (p. 75)
So much of what we hear about in the news is ambiguous at best and just plain evil at its worst. We need places and people to remind us that there is a basic goodness to the world that resides in people’s hearts. A constant diet of what is wrong obscures the goodness from which creation and our own lives come. That is not to say that evil and injustice don’t exist. They do and we are called to address them in whatever form we see them. However, at the heart of God’s creation is a latent goodness, as Demetrius Dumm puts it. Assuming the presence of goodness creates room for that goodness to come forth.
Many of us at the monastery had the occasion recently to hear this goodness expressed. On Sunday June 30, 2019, the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal held a reception for the 19 participants in the first immersion retreat. The sisters and about 30 volunteers who had a part in the immersion attended the reception. The volunteers had helped directors, Jerry Busse and Nancy Enderle, with the listening sessions, spiritual guidance, ambiance set up, input for the group and more. All the communities of the monastery were represented.
During the reception, the members of the immersion group each said a few words about what the retreat meant to them. They shared words such as joy, renewal, hope, home, peace. They each sought to express what the time at the monastery had meant to them. The overwhelming experience for everyone was one of gratitude for their new colleagues, for the monastery, for the prairie and natural world, for the love and grace of God that each experienced in her or his own way. They were looking forward to staying connected to each other and returning to the monastery for five days in January 2020.
It was gratifying for the sisters, the directors and volunteers to hear their heart-felt words of appreciation for the time and space to relax, for the new spiritual practices they experienced and for reflection on their ministry. For me, this is another indication why the monastery is so important in our time.
Benedictines are called to seek God in everything. Perhaps at its most basic, this means looking for the goodness in the heart of each person we meet and reflecting on each experience to find where goodness may be at work. Dumm says that gratitude helps tune our hearts to this latent goodness in the world. I experienced this as I listened to the clergy talk about their gratitude for their experience at Holy Wisdom.