As many of you know I am a co-founder of Community of Divine Love, a traditional Benedictine monastery, which relocated to the San Luis Obispo area 18 months ago. Brother Dennis and I met in 2008 and discovered that both of us were essentially living like monastics – praying the divine hours and living simply. It didn’t take long for us to feel God calling us to live a more intentional life of prayer and work. We approached our bishop who encouraged and supported us on this path. The Order of Holy Cross generously agreed to mentor us as we developed our Rule of Life and continue to mentor us to this day.
There are three lifetime vows that Benedictines make – Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life. Within these vows are celibacy and voluntary poverty. Surely, to most people, these sound less than appealing. Who would want to commit to such confining vows? And yes - the monastic life is not very popular today – unlike 1500 years ago when St Benedict wrote his now famous Rule. Monasteries then offered young men and women a safe life with the benefit of an education. Monasteries throughout Europe for centuries held great attraction for all classes of people and were an important anchor in a chaotic and dangerous world.
Maybe surprisingly, within this rather structured life of prayer, work and study monastics find a sense of freedom. The vowed life frees one from many of the burdens of life and allows one to focus on God alone and in fact some of the happiest people I know are living in monasteries and convents.
In St Benedicts Rule it says: “that as we progress in this way of life and faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” His Rule is not oppressive but rather liberative. It is meant to be a scaffolding that supports an ever-deeper connection with God.
The vow of conversion of life is what I want to explore today. Our Community of Divine Love Rule of life says this about Conversion of Life:
We seek to evolve, transform, and grow in grace by turning away from self-will and turning toward the will of God. We vow to be always a pilgrim, guided by the Holy Spirit, living in ongoing conversion, mindful that God is always calling us into deeper places with ongoing newness and fullness of life. It is in the challenges of living in community, where conversion meets the loving commitment of stability, that we become more aware of ourselves and our need to evolve. Through our conversion of life, we strive to reveal Christ Consciousness in ourselves and in the greater community.
Some of the great church Fathers – particularly the Greeks including Origen of Alexandria, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and the Hesychest monastics went even further in their expectations of conversion of life. They taught and believed in the evolution of the soul into deification or theopoesis which means “becoming godly.” Some might find this a bit much, but as someone who has spent much of my life in Eastern traditions I find this deeply compelling.
I am almost 70 years old and I have been on a spiritual journey for almost my whole life. My conversion experience happened in 1976 when I was in my early twenties. It was at the end of my very first yoga class. I was laying on floor at the end of 90 minutes of twisting myself into a pretzel and suddenly I was overcome with a sense of oneness with everyone and everything. I was in an altered state of consciousness. I think of now as an encounter with the peace that passes all understanding. It was a life-changing experience, and I knew I had to explore this feeling and understand it.
I looked for it in Buddhism which believes that everyone has within them the Buddha Nature and that life is a process of revealing one’s true nature as the Buddha. I spent a ton of time meditating but I never found what I was seeking. Then I got deeply into the spirituality of Yoga which is all about transcending our limitations and becoming one with universal consciousness. I did a lot more meditation but ultimately found this path to be too self-oriented.
Then in 2000 my mom – a good Episcopalian suggested I try church. I didn’t think of Christianity as a deeply spiritual path but I was wrong.
It is amazing to me that young yoga teachers across America are studying unitive consciousness every day. But we Christians seem tentative to claim our own history of spirituality and mysticism.
Take for example the 15th century Italian Saint, Catherine of Genoa, known for her work with the sick and poor is famous for saying, “My deepest me is God.” And every time we recommit to our baptismal covenant don’t we say that we will seek and serve Christ in all people, respecting the dignity of every human being? We seek and serve Christ in all people – we are confirming that God dwells in and with us. That Christ abides with us as we abide in him.
This is essentially the same as the Sanskrit word Namaste that has become the final word in most yoga classes in America and means I bow to the Divine in you as you bow to the Divine in me.
This is our rich Christian spirituality. I feel like we don’t do a good job of owning the depth of our mystical roots, which by the way have more women than any other spiritual path.
Conversion of life seems to be something we can all commit to up to the moment of transition and who knows after that. I bet it will serve us well on the other side. I assume everyone sitting in this lovely church longs for an ever-deeper communion with God and Jesus Christ. I believe our souls thirst for this and propel us into a deeper awareness of God’s presence within us and in all of creation.
Maybe you have a practice of daily devotion that offers you a deep and meaningful journey into communion with God. Maybe you feel your heart growing in the love and knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. Maybe you are ever more filled with the peace that passes all understanding.
As we celebrate the feast of our beloved Saint Benedict who in his great wisdom made conversion of life a core commitment let us honor this path of ever deepening communion with God.
I pray that our on-going conversion of life is helping us all become a little more Christ like every day as we open our hearts to God’s indwelling presence.