My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
- Psalm 16:6
I’ll bet you didn’t know that today, May 15, is the feast of Saint Pachomius (ca. 292–348). I myself didn’t know until I looked it up! But how appropriate that the man who is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic (community) monasticism is honored as the Stay-at-Home order in New Orleans comes to a close.
Pachomius began his ascetic life as a solitary religious under the guidance of a hermit named Palaemon. After studying seven years with Palaemon, Pachomius set out to lead the life of a hermit until he heard a voice that told him to build a dwelling for the hermits to come to.
Pachomius established his first monastery between 318 and 323 at Tabennisi, Egypt. Until then, Christian asceticism had been solitary or eremitic with male or female monastics living in individual huts or caves and meeting only for occasional worship services. Pachomius created the community or cenobitic organization, in which male or female monastics lived together and held their property in common. The community hailed Pachomius as "Abba" ("father" in Hebrew), from which "Abbot" derives. Historians believe that the Christian monastic tradition began from this seed.
While I suspect all this is new information for you, we are all pretty familiar by now with the idea of living in isolation, either alone or with family. And after our experience, it is hard to imagine how people would choose to lead such a life! But if we ponder what has opened up to us due to our new lifestyles, I think we may catch a small glimpse of the attraction after all.
These days, except when I am carried off by what comes at me on my computer screen (which happens a great deal, I confess) I am finding the in-between times more peaceful, more focused. I have much more quality time with family, much more opportunity to read and think and pray. It’s not that I am doing less for my work – I am actually doing a lot more, in increasingly complex ways – but the rest of my life has somehow gotten slower, more peaceful, more spirit-filled.
I have never resided in a monastery but I have attended retreats in them, and the walls themselves seem inspirited with prayer. Time is different there. God’s presence fills the rooms and the hallways and the minutes. And if I am honest with myself, I know it is not the building that makes this true – it is who I am when I am there.
My hope for all of us, no matter how much things “open” over the next weeks and months, is that we can retain some of that inward peace and focus and connection to what matters when the distractions flood back in. My prayer is that who we have found ourselves to most deeply be is the child of God who lives a life of gratitude and love, infused by and sharing the grace that sometimes we can only hear and be sure of in the quiet, between the noise.
Gracious God, bless us in our going out and our coming in, in the noise and haste, and in the quiet and the peace. Help us to connect our sense of you when we are with others with our sense of you when we are in isolation, and let us never doubt, come what may, that you hold us forever, lovingly, in the palm of your hand. Amen.