It’s so easy not to be present. I think of all the times I have watched TV and had a conversation, or talked to someone on the cell phone and walked and managed something else at the same time. Looking around, I see people do this everyday (much to my dismay when I see people chat or text as they drive). How many things do we miss as we fill our moments with multitasking?
I recently had the privilege of attending a retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, where I learned about St. Benedict’s Rule, and found myself reflecting on the tenet of “attending the present moment.” This sense of attending is an important part of the deal--this requires commitment on our part. There’s something refreshing about a retreat, where we can set aside our usual worries of the everyday in favor of tending to our souls.
I thought of this in my “monastery moment”--I sat in the courtyard of the abbey and listened to both the birds and the monks sing. The steady cadence of the chanted psalms inside at Vespers, familiar to me, combined with the cheerful chirp of the many birds preparing for evening, swooping through the trees. The men sing antiphonally--two groups facing each other, singing parts of the psalms to each other one by one. That sobering chant that resonated through the Abbey seemed more muffled for the humidity, and I struggled, big with child, to stand for a bit, to listen and watch more carefully. The sun sets beyond the trees in the courtyard; it grows darker by the minute.
What happens when I get home to an inordinately loud TV, the temptations of the internet, and the business of busy-ness that threatens to take over my consciousness?
In practical terms St. Benedict’s Rule calls for “being attentive to the people and situations before us,” as Tomaine highlights in that pamphlet we’ve been following. In keeping with this the monks take vows of stability and obedience, attending the present moment in a more ordinary way. Those of us committed to the lay life can do the same in our families and communities. We create stability for each other in our everyday actions, and are obedient to each others’ needs as they arise; in this practice we develop what God calls us to do in community, and this is a way to tend our souls.
So--I listen to my friend as we lunch together and consider life over sandwiches. Or I respond with mercy and grace to a request for help from a student, or from family, or from my church and city communities. Even the little things which make our lives stable for each other--grocery shopping, cleaning, serving meals, sharing ideas--can have real impact on our soul-work if we accept and let it mix with the more extraordinary ways God connects to us.
Accept that which is right in front of you--enjoy it, wonder at it, learn from it. In that acceptance may we find the presence of God.