Upon receipt of a number of calls and conversations recently regarding biblical studies and preaching at our parish or in general, I thought about the lectionary system and the spiritual pathway of the church. I spend a good deal of thought unraveling biblical theology and, for that matter, the extension of that theology in the life of the church. As a priest I am chiefly concerned to discover ways to open the spiritual pathway of the church, what we call theosis, because that’s the heart of the matter as well as a matter of the heart.
While driving west on vacation it occurred to me that one key reason people consult monastics as spiritual guides is because the monastic tradition, having absorbed as fully as it can the biblical basis of the faith, has discovered ways to give life to that tradition and communicate it, often in simple language. When I go to a monastery and say, “Give me a word,” to a spiritual father or mother, I honor the truth that this person has entered deeply into the tradition and can communicate it in the simplest way possible without loss of depth.
The “problem” I experience with regard to preaching is that we work in partialities; we expose texts that are taken out of context yet which we hope will communicate a fullness they cannot possess as excerpts. You can never communicate the entirety of a gospel passage (we call them pericopes, “cut-outs”), because every passage is tied to every other passage in a totality. The Gospels really are whole cloth; they are meant to be read or heard as a complete presentation.
The monastic tradition has absorbed this totality and, hence, the word you receive from a monk or nun comes out of the depth of wholeness. Oddly enough, because this is true that word can also be a symbol that embraces the whole pattern to bring you an insight, succinctly stated. This is rather clear when we read through any collection of sayings from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, where whole concepts can be communicated through a short sentence or a symbolic gesture.
If my hunch is true, then it makes perfect sense that the American church will grow stronger as the monastic tradition improves among us. We need the symbiosis between monastery and church to deepen the faith on American soil.