The Spirituality of the Cistercians
On the Feast of St Robert de Molesme (Cistercian monk, 1029-1111)
Genesis 12:1-4 and Matthew 19:27-29
It’s not easy for us to imagine a group of 22 men, in the latter half of the 11thcentury, heading into a remote and thickly forested region of France to establish a new monastery. With whatever tools they had brought with them, they began to clear the trees and bushes, and to build small individual huts out of branches. They had little to eat, few possessions, and none of the comforts that we so routinely take for granted. In addition to this, they set for themselves a rigorous daily schedule, based on the Rule of St Benedict: four hours of sleep in the night, followed by four hours of prayer, both private and communal. A meager diet of roots and herbs. Hard manual work during the day, off-set by more worship and periods of reading or study.
Like Abram and like the apostles in our readings tonight, they left everything– homes, families, possessions, livelihoods, friends, one could say even civilization itself – to give their lives (as completely as they knew how) to God. Their leader was a 69 year-old man, Robert de Molesme, who had become a Benedictine monk at the tender age of 15. Not long after having entering the monastery, he began to be recognized for his piety and sanctity, and at a comparably young age, was elected as its prior.
"I really appreciate it."
How often in a single day do you speak or hear these words? We Brothers hear them day after day, from our Friends, who write to thank us for a word we've shared, or a sermon we've posted. We are so grateful for this stream of thanks, which inspires and heartens us, that we wanted to stop and take a moment to reflect on how just powerful gratitude can be in our lives.
As our friend Anders sums it up: "Gratitude seems to be shortest path to love God with all our hearts and souls, and to love one another as ourselves . . . In gratitude, we are co-creators with God, and it is good."
Gratitude is so important that the fundamental action of Christian worship is the Eucharist, an act of gratitude that literally means "great thanksgiving." "Let us give thanks to the Lord," the celebrant invites us. And we respond, "It is right to give God thanks and praise."
Gratitude is a great gift, which we are made to receive and offer back to God. And to do that, we need to practice!
Our friend, Ruth put it perfectly: "How often we see the hole instead of the donut! How blessed we are from day to day! May God grant us the ability to see those blessings!"
Living a Day Full of Gratitude
Gratitude, like any other spiritual practice, is something we do, not just something we feel. And it's something we need to practice. To practice gratitude, we don’t need a special cushion on which to sit, nor a special lamp to light, nor a special icon on which to gaze, nor special incense to smell, nor special prayer beads to finger, nor a special prayer or mantra to recite. (None of that is in any way bad or inappropriate. It may well help. It is simply not enough.)
What is enough is here and now. The Psalmist reminds us, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118: 24). Gratitude consecrates our life and makes us real, because it makes us really available to the real presence of Christ, who is at work within us and around us – now.
We hope you'll try out these four simple invitations and see how they change your day.
6 AM: Pray your gratitude
The Psalmist asks rhetorically, “How shall I repay the LORD for all the good things he has done for me?” (Ps 116:10). Start with gratitude. Br. Geoffrey suggests that the best time to practice gratitude is first thing in the morning – even Monday mornings! (God Loves to be Thanked – Br. Geoffrey Tristram) Before you ask God for anything, say thank you for one thing or many things.
Noon: Keep your ears open
People will want to thank you today. Let them. (This can be a hard one!) They need to speak their gratitude; you need to hear it. Respond to them, “You are welcome,” and say it from the bottom of your heart. And keep your ears open to hear God’s gratitude for you. There is no one else like you, and God – believe it or not – is immensely grateful for who you are and all the good that you do.
6 PM: Express your gratitude to others
People are so easily taken for granted. Whether they be people whose labor is menial or in leadership, or whose lives are closely linked with yours, people are so easily taken for granted. You'll change their day, perhaps change their life, by expressing your gratitude for who they are and what they do. Stop throughout the day and thank someone. Make an unexpected phone-call to say thank you for something that happened, even long ago. A handwritten note can be equally powerful.
9 PM: Savor your life
Take time to remember and reclaim what is so amazingly good in your life. (Br. Luke Ditewig offers tips on how to do this in this short video.) Gratitude means saying “Yes” to the life you’ve been given, accepting the good gifts of life without resentment for what is not there, or no longer there. Try to complete the daily chapters of your life by remembering and appreciating what has been so very good today.
Read, Listen, and Watch More from the SSJE Brothers on Practicing Gratitude
- Does prayer elude you? In his article "Living Gratefully," Br. Curtis Almquist encourages a practice of gratitude, assuring us, "Gratitude in prayer is like oil to a frozen gear box." Get some tips here >
- “Our whole life is a life of gratitude,” said Thomas Merton. But how can we cultivate a spirit of gratitude in all things? Br. David Vryhof offers some suggestions in his article Life Becomes Rich: The Gift of Gratitude >
- In this short video, Br. Robert L'Esperance makes a passionate argument for how gratitude helps us embrace the newness of every moment. Watch it here >
- "Our life should overflow with thanksgiving to Jesus. Thanksgiving should be the driving force in our daily lives." Say a simple Thank you, Jesus with the late Br. John Goldring.
This week most of the Gospel readings have been from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. In those readings we see the later reactions of some who witnessed the miraculous feeding of 5,000 people. They were disputing even among themselves. The question they were disputing was “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52) For them that idea was not only distasteful but it was against the Jewish Law. (E.g., Lev. 17:14, 15& Deut. 12:23)