A New Paradigm Of An Old Tradition
Mutual Mentoring With Those Outside the Community
Relationship between guests and the community
Now I would like to reflect on the mutual mentoring that happens between community members or the entire community and those outside the community. My favorite example from the Rule is in chapter 61, "The Reception of Visiting Monks."
Visiting monastics from far away will perhaps present themselves and wish to stay as guests in the monastery. Provided that they are content with the life as they find it, and do not make excessive demands that upset the monastery but are simply content with what they find, they should be received for as long a time as they wish. They may indeed with all humility and love make some reasonable criticisms or observations which the prioress or abbot should prudently consider; it is possible that God guided them to the monastery for this very purpose.9
We have found that listening to the reasonable criticisms and observations of those who visit us or serve on committees or boards has mentored us to a totally new level of understanding and growth. We recently established an Executive Advisory Council, which will serve as an overall advisory or mentoring group to the prioress and the monastic chapter. Here are some ways that members of this council said they could mentor us:
- Help the sisters prioritize the challenges facing them;
- Help identify people who may be able to help in some of the key challenges;
- Challenge the sisters from the outside in a loving way;
- Be a link to other people in the public sector;
- Think outside the box;
- Be a sounding board and validate direction;
- Help the sisters know how to market their uniqueness.10
We, in turn, have mentored these Executive Advisory Council members in our Benedictine way of life. We invited them to pray with us, eat with us, and learn more about us. One of the gentlemen who has owned businesses all over the world said that the best thing about the evening was praying Evening Prayer with the sisters. We will continue to give them articles and books about the Benedictine way of life.
We are all familiar with Benedict's admonition to see Christ in the guest and the stranger visiting the monastery. In a book entitled Letters to My Brothers and Sisters, Living by the Rule of St. Benedict, author Denis Huerre, when speaking about guests, says:
Unless we treat a guest with all the respect due to a human being and in the faith that God is manifest in this encounter, our hospitality will not be monastic. We need to remember that all travelers, whether on foot or flying by jet, are disoriented and dislocated. Health, hygiene, habits, mental composure, all need to be met with understanding, or the new arrival will feel himself inferior to the host and inferior to his own usual self. But the monk, too, has an equilibrium and rhythm in his way of life, and unless he can present himself in his own character as a monk, he can be of no value to the guest. Benedict wants each to be himself so that the encounter will be a gain for each and not a de-spiritualizing experience.11