The Inner Monk

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Good morning and welcome back.
For the benefit of those that will be listening to the tape of these reflections on the theme
The Inner Monk, I'd like to perhaps begin the reflection, this third talk, with a little
bit of a summary and a clarification of where we have been in the last two talks and what
I've been trying to share with you.
And some of these clarifications are based upon some of the questions that you have posed
to me that didn't get on the tape.
I think what I've been trying to say, to share with you, is that the witness of the monk
is simply the witness to the human heart and the greatest treasure within it.
The outer monk, the person who enters a monastic order which has structured its entire life
around this inner monk or this return to the heart, what I'm suggesting is the monk within
the inner monk is that heart which seeks and longs for God alone.
And so to get in touch with one's inner monk is to discover the heart, to return to one's
And since we all have a heart, every human being, this really is a task that is a human
task and involves everyone, but not everyone chooses to externalize in an outer monastic
way of life and discipline and structure.
But we all have to find our heart, to return to our heart, and to find the treasure within
our heart.
So, the inner monk is the heart, and we have mentioned that we return to the heart.
How do I come to know my heart?
It's not just that which is within my head.
It's not just my inner dreams or emotions, although that certainly is the beginning of
going inward, going down to the depths of oneself, the core of who one is.
That is the beginning.
There are the layers of the personality, the layers of the unconscious that we pass through.
But often people make the mistake of thinking this is their heart, and they feel they know
their heart.
They often equate the heart with sentiment, sentimentality, or emotions.
No, we have to know these things as we journey to the heart.
So they do have an important place as stages or steps along the journey.
So how do we return to the heart?
By way of a listening life, a deep listening life.
And how do we learn this deep listening, this listening to the depths?
At least initially, anyway, for some period to grow in this capacity to listen, all the
traditions mention the importance of silence and solitude.
And we mentioned there are two dimensions of silence and solitude.
One must first start with the outermost dimension, and that is a place, a physical place, where
I can enter into silence and solitude, where I can, as the scriptures tell us, be still
and know God.
So that's the first place, and that for modern people is a challenge in itself, to find this
place where I won't be interrupted, this place of relative quiet, a room in the house at
a certain time of the day, or a park at a certain time of the day, or a car on a drive
in a certain place where it's quiet, wherever it might be, to find this place and to be
aware of all that within us seeks to evade, seeks to run away from the physical place
of solitude and silence.
And I mentioned to you the difficulties people even have coming here and staying for very
But that is the first step, the place.
And then we said, then one must move within oneself to seek the inner dimension of silence
and solitude.
It is right to say that perhaps the most important hermitage, the deepest hermitage, is the
hermitage of the heart.
And so we go to the physical hermitage in order to eventually find the inner hermitage
that is with us everywhere, no matter where we are, if we know it and are in touch with
it and can rest within that inner hermitage of the heart.
So this listening way through silence and solitude, and we then mentioned through my
image of the Grand Canyon, that when one moves in, one first begins to be aware of
all the noise, the inner noise and activity that our mind tries to keep going.
When we remove from the outer activity our mind, which tells us, this is normal way of
life, this is who I am, I am what I do, I am what I accomplish, I am what I achieve.
The mind tries to keep all of that going on the treadmill of activity, even if it's just
brain activity.
And then once a person can begin to move through that, one may then come to this emptiness,
this giant Grand Canyon of the heart.
And all the fears of going into that emptiness, as well as the awareness of the ways we try
to fill that emptiness, with the toy pails, referring to the image of the little child
trying to fill the Grand Canyon, all these little toys we try to fill our life with,
including religion and even God.
And God does not fill the emptiness from the outside.
And so we need to let the emptiness be.
But more than that, we need to then enter into this emptiness, into this space within us,
this vacancy, this wound, this abyss, and to descend in it, going through the layers
of the personality, the sediment and layers of rock on the side of the canyon, and eventually,
because of our faith, believing that there is something, there is someone at the very
bottom, our heart of hearts.
There is this river of life flowing there.
This is the place of the kingdom.
This is the place where the Trinity dwells within us.
This is the place of our deepest self.
And in a mysterious way, the entire universe we meet at this deep level, for it is the
one stream of life that feeds all life.
I did mention, and I will say a little bit more about it, because I think it's a very
big problem, the fundamental resistance to going within the heart is perhaps the fear
of death.
And what's the ending of, the ceasing of activity and the emptiness are all suggestive to us
of death.
So I'll say a little bit more about that later, by way of further clarification.
What I'd like to do now is read from you the second reading from this Sunday, which is tomorrow's
reading, from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2, 13 to 18.
If you remember, we've been taking the readings this week, and actually from the readings
that we're going to hear at mass tomorrow, because they fit so beautifully our theme.
So that's Ephesians 2, verses 13 to 18.
This is what Paul has to tell us.
But now in Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far off have been brought close by the
blood of Christ, for he is the peace between us, and he has made the two into one entity
and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart by destroying in his own person
the hostility that is the law of commandments with its decrees.
His purpose in this was by restoring peace, to create a single new man out of the two
of them, and through the cross to reconcile them both to God in one body.
In his own person he killed the hostility.
He came to bring the good news of peace to you who were far off, and peace to those who
were near.
Through him, then, we both in the one spirit have access to the Father.
Now, as you probably all know, there are many ways of approaching scripture and interpreting
There are many angles we can take as we look at the one word, and perhaps if we took a
look at what each of us share on what we heard through this text, I'm sure there would be
as many different angles and perceptions as there are people in this room, and there's
somewhat 18 of us, I think, in here.
And there are many levels or layers of scripture.
There's the literal and the most obvious layer, but scripture which is so poetic is designed
to evoke an awareness of God who is present with us through the text of scripture.
So, the words are far more symbolic and evocative, and because of that, they have many layers
of suggestion and many associations that keep expanding and expanding the meaning of the
text, and heightening and broadening and deepening our awareness of this God who is with us,
and who loves us, and who speaks to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
And so, in this text from Ephesians, the more obvious level is that Paul is talking about,
in terms of the context of Ephesians, he's talking about the Jews who were near, because
Jesus came, was a Jew, and he came to the Jewish people to reveal the truth, to bring
reconciliation between God and them.
And those who were far, Paul is talking about the Gentiles, those who are far away from
the whole Jewish tradition, far away from the prophets, and the whole preparation of
the Jewish history for Christ.
But now Paul is saying, through Christ, those who are far have been brought near, and both
Jew and Gentile, if they believe in Christ through faith, have access to the Father,
become one.
So that's the most obvious level of the text, and I'm fully aware of that.
But I think one can also take a valid and a beautifully meaningful approach, particularly
in light of what we're sharing about today, and that is to take it and look at it from
the personal perspective, as not about persons, Jews and Gentiles, coming to God through Christ
and becoming one, but rather parts of myself.
Maybe we could say, within each one of us there is a Jew and a Gentile, there is someone
near and someone far who needs to be brought near.
As I've mentioned in my other two talks, the monk seeks to be one.
The very word for monk in the Greek means one.
And that is the source of the monk's peace that he seeks.
He cannot find peace unless the division within him can be healed and can be brought into
And in that unity, he finds his unity with God, with other people, with the whole created
And so Paul tells us, you who are far off have been brought near.
And so through this return to the heart that we've been speaking of, this journey within
the emptiness, within that giant wound as we go deeper and deeper, we are brought near.
Our conscious self, the conscious personality that is far off, that is cut off, that is
separated from the deeper layer, from the heart, is brought near.
And this is only possible through Christ.
And this is what Paul tells us.
You have been brought near by Christ's death.
And of course, implied in that death is the giving of the Spirit.
That is the consequence of the death and resurrection of Jesus is the giving of the Spirit.
And in John's Gospel, it's at the very scene of Jesus's death that he breathes out his
Spirit in the moment of death.
That is the Pentecost for John from his perspective.
And then his side is pierced in blood and water, baptism and the Eucharist.
And so we have the whole initiation of a Christian symbolically in that scene for John's Gospel
of the Crucifixion.
Baptism, the Eucharist, and the receiving of the Spirit is how we share in the life
of Christ and have access to the Father.
So Christ is our guide, let's put it this way, in terms of finding the inner monk, finding
the heart, going down into the Grand Canyon of our hearts is not possible alone.
As I had mentioned before, this listening way into the heart is a way that requires
grace, because there is great resistance in us, sin within us, that resists going down
into the depths.
Or, if it feels it must go, we'll try to go into the depths with the ego, with the
controls, rather than surrendering one's way into the depths, rather than letting go and
falling into the embrace of God.
And so, it's interesting that silence and solitude of themselves are not enough.
Many of the Desert Fathers and Mothers went crazy in the desert, in their silence and
solitude, as they had to face that emptiness alone.
I think we need instruction in the silence and solitude, and we need a guide into the
Grand Canyon of our hearts.
And for the Christian, that guide is Christ, who is made present to us and alive to us,
the risen Christ, that is, through the Holy Spirit.
He makes Christ alive within us.
For us, the Spirit within us is the bond of love between the Father and the Son, and
guides us to sound our own depths, much like a mariner sounding the depths of the ocean
for his passage.
Our life is a passage, a journey, and we must constantly watch out for the shallows,
and sound the depths.
Look for the deep waters, the clear channels, the open sea, the spaciousness of God.
And this is what Paul is referring to in this beautiful text from Ephesians, chapter 2.
But now in Christ, you that used to be far off have been brought close by the blood of
For he is the peace between us, between the conscious ego self and the deep self, the
heart, between the outermost dimensions of who we think we are and the innermost dimensions
of who we are.
He has brought this peace, and I had mentioned this is what the monk seeks, the inner monk
seeks this wholeness.
Jesus brings about this wholeness within the person, as well as within families, societies,
nations, and the world.
So we enter that emptiness with our guide, who through the Spirit is Christ.
The Spirit makes this Christ present, and he is the peace.
He, in bringing us in touch with our hearts, brings us to a wholeness.
And as the text of Paul goes on, Jesus does this creating a single new man out of the two.
Jesus creates a unity.
He creates a oneness, a wholeness within us and between us.
As it says, it's through the cross that Jesus reconciles them both to God in one body.
Both parts of us become one, the conscious self and the deep heart become one.
And we become whole, we become one body, one person.
And through that, we have free access to the Father,
whom we know through other texts of the New Testament, dwells within the heart of the believer.
The Father, the Son, and the Spirit dwell within the heart of the believer.
The Trinity is that fountain of life, deep within our hearts.
We hear echoes in this of Jesus talking to the woman at the well.
He tells her, you can keep dropping your bucket in this well,
but unless you learn to drop your bucket in the well of your heart, down deep,
you will never come to know the fountain of everlasting life that is deep within you.
And so through him then, we both in the one Spirit have free access to the Father.
And so we descend into the emptiness within us.
We are able to endure perhaps that horrible feeling,
that horrible sensation of our own utter poverty and nothingness.
I think we dare to enter into it, which is a very frightening thing,
only when we are led by grace, and not before that.
One should not do it out of curiosity or out of some sense of bravado
or trying to prove something to ourselves or someone else.
Nor should we let another human person bring us into these depths that I'm talking about.
Not just, again, not the psychological unconscious is not what I'm talking about,
but this even deeper realm requires a spiritual guide.
The Holy Spirit, for the Christian tradition, that is the spiritual guide,
the Spirit who makes Christ present to us, leading us to the depths of our heart,
leading us down to that stream of life.
For us, Scripture has a privileged place in guiding us in our silence and solitude.
And why is that?
It's because the Spirit of the Father and the Son speak to us through Scripture.
If we approach the Scripture in the silence and solitude a certain way,
and in the monastic tradition that is Lectio Divina,
which later on this year I'll be giving a weekend retreat on that theme,
and there'll be tapes made of those four talks,
it's a particular way of approaching Scripture in order for an encounter,
in order to meet Christ, in order to go into one's heart.
Scripture teaches us to listen to the heart,
to find our hearts and the inner monk,
to know the restlessness,
to come to know and explore our own inner emptiness and woundedness,
to enter into it,
and to find surging up from deep within the cave of the heart a river,
a fountain, a stream,
a fountain of life.
Now God's Word, who is Christ,
is not only, or is not completely contained in Scripture,
that Word is deep within you and me.
The Spirit that speaks to us through the Scriptures is also speaking within us.
The Word is also in the universe, in other people.
But what I'm saying here is there is a privileged place
that Scripture occupies in the Christian tradition,
and therefore in the monastic tradition.
Scripture is an important tool
that teaches the monk
how to listen his way,
or how to listen his way into his heart,
and to hear an inner word.
That word that Scripture says is a two-edged sword
cutting through to the heart.
But the Word is also described by Paul as a birthing.
All creation groans to give birth, Paul tells us.
There is a Word in us seeking to come out, to be born.
And there's a Word all around us seeking to break in,
so that the outer and the inner
may become one, whole, united reality.
And so to be a monk is to be on a quest.
It is to find one's heart,
one's inner monk,
and to seek that fulfillment,
the kind that only God can give.
As I mentioned before,
and it's a strange mystery, but as we descend into our heart,
it's not really that when we get to the bottom,
then we will be rewarded by being able to drink
from the stream of God's loving presence.
But another mystery begins to happen,
and that is in the very descent
where we are led by Christ through the power of the Spirit,
somehow the river of life deep within us
rises up to meet us,
and embraces us, and kisses us,
and refreshes us.
The journey to the heart
involves, I think,
finding the river
right in the midst of the desert.
It means finding the garden
right in the midst of our human wilderness.
It means finding the treasure
hidden in the field,
the seemingly ordinary, useless field of our life.
It means finding divine fulfillment
right in the midst of our emptiness
and our unfulfillment.
It means being fed
by the bread of life
right in the middle
of our deepest hungers.
It means finding peace and wholeness
right in the middle of our
and restlessness.
It means finding Sabbath rest
right in the middle, dead center,
of our activity.
This is a paradox and a mystery.
What I'm describing is not
kind of a reward after going in,
but rather somehow when one is faithful to the journey
into the heart, led by Christ,
and one does this daily, moment by moment,
that reality
of God begins to break into our life.
Another way of putting this would be
to say that the kingdom begins to break into our life.
It may not be completely, but we begin to get
the foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
We begin to drink the first drops of the new wine,
of the new kingdom.
We begin to receive the first installments of Christ
who is our peace, who is our reconciliation,
who is our wholeness, who makes us into a new person.
It's the fidelity to the journey
to the heart that is most important, to the process, to the journey.
And somehow when we are faithful to that journey within,
the goal
begins to unfold and to be poured forth into
the folds of our garment.
And so the inner monk,
to find the inner monk, we must return to the heart
through a deep listening in silence and solitude,
working through the fears of non-activity,
the many inner voices and desires that have a hold of us,
being able to face
our anxiety and fear of death, of non-activity,
of non-existence, of boredom, emptiness, abandonment,
being able to face the countless ways we try to fill
the emptiness within and avoid our hearts,
avoid going within our own poverty by fillers,
by consuming our way through life and even religion,
that we must descend into the Grand Canyon of our hearts
with a guide who has already descended into
our wounded, empty humanity,
and that is Jesus. You see, Jesus knows
our hearts better than we do. Jesus knows
every human heart because Jesus, through his death,
has descended
into hell, into each of our hells,
into our own
And he has risen from there.
And so Jesus leads us
on this journey to the heart
and guides us and is made present to us through the Spirit
and Scripture mediates
this guidance of Jesus.
This Scripture is very important, as we said.
It is the God within the Word,
which helps us to sound our own depths and to begin to taste the peace
and repose and fulfillment and eternal life and wholeness
that we long for.
Our hearts are restless, St. Augustine says, until they rest in God.
The inner monk is the heart
in all of us that seeks God
The only one who can fill us
and bring us true and lasting peace.
Okay, I think we'll stop at this point.
And some of you have been asking about
some other recommended readings.
And in my last talk, tomorrow morning,
I'll present to you
Part of that talk will be to mention several books that
you might find really helpful in continuing this exploration of
the inner monk.
I would suggest that you continue to
do your own Lectio Divina, to do your own deep, deep pondering
of our readings for this Sunday, particularly
the one I used today, Ephesians chapter 2, 13-18.
So we'll see you later.