Brother Bernard has asked me to talk this morning to the Associates who are here on retreat. My topic is “balance.” Naturally, in the balance of my life here at the Monastery, I sat down yesterday afternoon to ponder what I could say about balance.
The Holy Spirit has a sense of humor, and must also take the long view. I signed up for “balance” months ago. In the meantime, I managed to fill up the two weeks prior to this talk such that I’ve been desperately wanting more balance. There’s nothing like being without something to remind you how much you love and need it.
One of the wonderful things about the monastic life, though, is that mistakes always lend themselves to growth, conversion, and mercy. I’ve been caught out more times than I care to admit in pettiness, the need to dominate and control, and my own self-absorbed muttering. Even when that self-absorption angers my brothers, they always come round to love. As I usually do with them, too.
I’ve been in this life long enough that I honestly don’t remember–at least experientially–what it’s like not to live in a monastery. It does strike me, though, that mercy and laughter and forgiveness are rarer outside this life than in it.
Yesterday I was standing outside my office, gabbing with two new Associates about this morning’s upcoming talk, and joking that I didn’t know what I was going to say (not entirely a joke, actually). Eventually our conversation wrapped around to “it’s important to recognize our limits.” And then “balance” clicked for me.
Earlier in the day, brainstorming my talk, I’d written out the question, “why is balance important?” Here, at least, was a partial answer. Balance keeps us in tune with our limitations. When my life is too full of activity, and I don’t have enough solitude, silence, recreation, or sleep, I turn into a very cranky monk. My compassion drops, both for others and myself; I start in on the cutting commentary; and suddenly the world drops its normal orbit and starts centering on me.
I cannot do everything I want to do. I can’t do everything I feel called to do. Every day, every week, every year has its allotment of minutes and hours. I can’t make the sun rise in the west, or the clock run backward, or my body happy with five hours of sleep. These are some of the fundamental rules the context of my life has provided.
Limitation requires balance. In that way an acknowledgement of my need for balance puts me in the path of humility, helps me to stand with an open heart toward God and my fellow creatures, and plants my feet in the here and now. I’m grateful to live a life that values balance and that continually offers me the path back when I’ve strayed.