Saturday, November 21, 2009

Monastic Prayer: Dwelling in God's Tent (part 3)

In the last installment we discussed how Benedict used the image of dwelling in God’s tent from Psalm 15 as an image of contemplation and the goal of monastic life. But there is another important tent image that Benedict may have had in mind. Maybe Benedict thought that as monastics we would be able to do what Peter wanted to do so badly.

Tent of the Transfiguration

In Matthew’s Gospel the account of the Transfiguration Jesus goes up to the mountain where he is “transfigured.” He is in the company of Moses and Elijah and his face and clothes are radiant, transformed. Peter, who is on the mountain along with Jesus, James and John, wants to stay there. Peter offers to build three “dwellings” so they can remain on the mountain in the midst of this transforming experience.

The Latin translation of the Bible which Benedict would have been familiar with uses the term tabernacula for Peter’s offer to build three “dwellings.” Benedict must have remembered Jesus on the mountain in the Transfiguration, a mountain like the holy mountain of Psalm 15. In the account of the Transfiguration Jesus is in the company of Moses, the one who lead the people on the journey with the portable tent of God, and with Elijah the prophet frequently invoked in conjunction with the coming of the Messiah. This combination of symbols could easily be seen as similar to the idea of dwelling God’s tent found in the Psalm.

Peter wanted to build a tent on this mountain and dwell in the presence of the glory of God. In this case though, the invitation and vision of the tent or tabernacle on the mountain was a fleeting one, Jesus and Peter were called to go back down the mountain to fulfill their destiny. But the vision of God’s holiness on the mountain would have been one that stayed with them. Indeed in the spiritual tradition of the Eastern Church the account of the Transfiguration is the basis for the spirituality of the “Taboric light” a personal encounter with God like that of Jesus on Tabor.


So perhaps this is ultimately what Benedict wants us to remember. Although we need to live lives that are blameless and just, the whole point of the running, the journey, is so that we can dwell with God. Monastic life isn’t about whether we live in a monastery or are monastics living outside monastery walls. That isn’t the key to the Benedictine way of life. Ultimately we come to the monastic spirituality to listen and respond to that most delightful invitation, the voice of God, our beloved, who says: come dwell with me, share my tent, abide in my love.

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