When a man is discerning a call to the monastic way of life, one question that we pose to him at the very beginning of the process is: “How well do you handle conflict, either one-on-one or within a communal structure?” While some men take this question in stride, there are others who seem a little surprised at the notion that monks in a monastery occasionally lock horns. I’ll admit that when I was an inquirer, the idea of conflict was not on my radar. There is often a romantic notion that monks abide together in a state of peaceful bliss, upheld by a common love of Jesus that diminishes strong wills, competitiveness, and ego.
But if we’re honest, there are no communities of love – whether they be familial, fraternal, or spiritual – that are not touched by the reality of conflict. At first, breakdowns in communication, misunderstandings, differences in needs, or opposing perspectives can all seem like failures. In reality, however, communities of belonging are often ones that give assent to the same ideals that we aspire to and help to provide us with what we cannot provide for ourselves on our own. The SSJE Rule of Life teaches, “Christ in his wisdom draws each disciple into that particular expression of community which will be the best means for his or her conversion.”
In January of 2021, Luke Day was named as the new strength coach for the University of South Carolina football team. At a press conference which introduced Coach Day to the wider public, he was asked about the inspiration for his mantra “Struggle Well!” Coach Day remarked that the mantra came from some personal “big-time life setbacks.” Both his charisma and brutal honesty had me hanging off his words as he went on to aver the inevitability of struggle in life. Certainly, my own experience of struggle has been arduous, life-long, and at times traumatic.
“It’s hard not to look at the ground as you walk, to set your sights low and keep the world spinning, and try to stay grounded wherever you are.” So John Koenig, author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, defines his neologism astrophe: the feeling of being stuck on Earth. “But every so often you remember to look up and imagine the possibilities, dreaming of what’s out there.”
What an amazing paradox: being grounded in a specific time and place and yet being able to look up and stare across time and space into the abyss of infinity. Pondering this, it dawns on me anew how mysterious life is. Even though we live in the age of information, where science is at the helm driving us to truth, the more intelligible life becomes, the more it seems to mystify me.