New to Stillness (pt. 1)

The fifth line of St. Romuald’s Brief Rule reads, “If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, then take every opportunity to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.”

I’m going to reflect on this line in two parts. My translation of the first part of line 5 reads, “If you are new to stillness and, in spite of  all your best intentions, you cannot accomplish what you want…”

I don’t know why but I love the phrase: ‘new to stillness.’ Its as if I can hear an old master speaking softly, hands behind his back, “If you are new to stillness…” (long pause) “…and, in spite of all your best intentions… (pause, albeit shorter) …you cannot accomplish what you want…” Hmm, I think to myself – is there anything that I’m good at just out of the box? When I first learned how to turn wood I nearly took off a thumb and ended up with some pretty horrible looking pieces of wood. Learning how to paint is a humbling experience because while I’m painting I feel like ‘this one is going to be perfect’ and then, three days later, I think ‘not bad for a second-grader’ (no offense to second-graders). This part of line five brings us right to the precipice: are you going to quit because cultivating stillness is difficult or are you going to sit, again, tomorrow?

I don’t know about you, but I hear a lot of grace in this part of the Rule. I hear the saint saying, ‘yeah, we’ve all been there, wanting stillness and quiet and wisdom and discernment of the Spirit -but it takes TIME and DISCIPLINE and a WILLINGNESS TO FAIL AND TO TRY AGAIN AND AGAIN. Stillness is not a task, it is a quality of being cultivated through practice.

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