Renewal of the Mind
‘Have this mind among yourselves … Put on the mind of Christ … Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.’ St Paul frequently exhorts us, the recipients of his letters, to submit our minds to the ongoing work of repentance and conversion of life that is the Christian life. ‘Repentance’ in Greek is ‘metanoia’, or ‘change of mind’, and as we submit our mind and its working to Christ a gradual renewal and transformation is wrought in us. We need not speculate as to how God is to accomplish this, it is sufficient that we have faith that he will. A disposition of patient waiting upon God is not attained in a day but neither, on the other hand, does it take half a lifetime.
Stayed on God
A quiet mind is a mind that is ‘stayed on God’, and the pattern of life in a monastery is designed to teach us how to keep our minds so stayed. There will come a time when the Holy Spirit will come and lead the mind directly to its home in God in the grace of contemplation, thereby granting direct knowledge of God and the life of God into which it is his good intention to bring his creature. In the meantime, and to prepare for that blessed development, the newcomer to the life of prayer must undergo a process of preparation and purification of the whole man.
There is much to repent of and much to take on board. In this sense a monastery is truly, to use St Benedict’s phrase, a ‘school for the Lord’s service’. This process of being emptied out in order to be filled is not successive. The great teachers of the Faith, the Fathers, must of necessity present to us the varying stages in the development of prayer as successive, or at least ‘separated out’ one from another, in order to describe them and place them before us for our attention, but they overlap to a considerable degree. Indeed, God so turns upside down man’s own ideas of what is the right order in which knowledge of divine things might best be given, as to render his ways not just inscrutable but impossible of access to reason acting on its own.
I think he does this to show us that he has given us reason that we might use it to come to him, that he might crown and complete it as only he can. God is God and man is man and he will show us in due course how to allow him to be God, and this in turn permits man to see, accept and rejoice in his creature-hood before God.
This is the greatest liberation imaginable and it results in an entirely spontaneous pouring forth of praise and thanksgiving to God in which, without a trace of self-consciousness, he thanks God for being God, expresses his love and admiration for him, and offers himself to him in service.
True purpose of life
This is the true purpose of life, it is what man was created for, and apart from it man withers and becomes distressed without knowing why. This is the great distress which Our Lord speaks of in Luke 21.23–28, and although few are able to see it as such, the cause of the distress, so widespread now, is a perceived absence of God. If it were not perceived there would be no distress.
In my experience of being lifted up to contemplation, a meeting with Our Lord is always preceded by an acutely perceived absence of grace, in which I have learned to hold steady and await his appearing. We can take heart, then, that the very absence of God, so keenly felt by so many these days, is of God, and is to serve him with a quiet mind in the working out of his good purpose.
Br Andrew is a monk of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God.