5 No one should presume to relate to anyone else what he saw or heard outside the monastery, because that causes the greatest harm. 6 If anyone does so presume, he shall be subjected to the punishment of the rule. 7 So too shall anyone who presumes to leave the enclosure of the monastery, or go anywhere, or do anything at all, however small, without the abbot’s order. RB 67:5-7
We are rather isolated in our monastery. We live in a very rural state, in a rural part of the state and three miles from the nearest small town. Our idea of excitement is when a kid gets a new motorcycle and can be heard making noise out on the road. We usually know within a couple of hours if someone has been admitted to the hospital and we speak in hushed tones of messy divorces and family problems.
But the world does intrude every night and that is a good thing. Every night after prayer and supper a number of sisters add another rite to the daily horarium, the nightly news. One of the common rooms has a TV and we gather to watch the national news. There is rapt attention to a parade of tragedy. Earthquakes, cyclones, political unrest, and terror happening in places we probably couldn’t find on a map are instantly brought into our remote living room. The world shrinks and we are no longer alone and isolated from the depths of human misery and suffering.
It is difficult to watch the news with integrity. Personally, I always want to create a distance, analyze it, say why it isn’t so bad, minimize the waves of pain that seem to flow from images and words on the screen. Other people seem to be able to ride the wave and just as easily walk away. But perhaps all of us are called to enter into the this ocean, not to run from it, not to ride on top of it, but to get wet, to experience the pain of the world. We cannot hold back this ocean or deny its existence. But the pain is real and we need to be part of it, we are connected to people we will never meet or know.
In this age of technology we know more about people around the world than our ancestors could have ever dreamed of. The world shrinks and comes closer. We are being called to something new, to live with hearts broken open in a world where hearts become callous to flickering images of pain. How do we cultivate tenderness, allow the pain to be real when it is easier to walk past? How do we allow ourselves to be hurt by others, both others in a country we will never see and others sitting on the couch next to us? Monastic life isn’t about answers. There are very few answers and the older we grow the more we realize the answers we had clung to so tightly don’t work. But monastic life offers space, space where we can hold the questions, hold the pain that we cannot heal and when we do so, we hold the presence of Christ in our midst.