Daily Life Ascetic

In his “Sabbaths: How May A Human Being Come to Rest” poems, Wendell Berry writes:

If we have become incapable
of denying ourselves anything
then all that we have
will be taken from us.        (“XII,” Leavings, Kindle Loc. 128)

Discipline and self-denial are neither valued nor practiced in our current culture. Yet I sense that Berry’s dictum rings true to us. I think that down deep we all see the handwriting on the wall. The future will be one of forced austerity if humanity cannot soon find within itself a resolve to live in harmony with Mother Earth.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call to live in “costly grace” was and is a call to daily ascetical practice. The nuance in these days is growing clarity that Christian ascetical practice is not contra mundi but pro mundi! (mundi=world) We take shorter showers, reduce consumption, and live sustainably for the life of the world. The enemy is not so much “the world, the flesh and the devil” as it is our seeming incapacity to “deny ourselves anything” that consumes the planet.

As Lukans anticipating and recognizing that “heaven and earth are full of your glory,” ascetic practice—denying ourselves some things—is not so much a perpetual Lent as it is an ongoing Easter! We are on the road with risen One, barely aware that our hearts are burning, but discovering that we have not lost all hope. Rather in journeying with Jesus, we rejoice in creation mediating the divine Presence. Indeed, in our time his breaking the bread may is not limited to the table sacrament but must expand to include the breaking open of the world as luminous and numinous! We live more simply in order to more directly encounter the Mystery—the goodness of the Mystery immanent and directly available to us in the world around us. And “here” we recognize Christ Jesus.

I have spent the month of November here in Virginia. Walks in the woods on crunching dry leaves, seeing the sun’s brilliant light reflected back from the scarlet tinged, golden leaves of the sugar maple in the neighbor’s yard, and feeling the impending winter in the light’s slanting rays, has seemed not so much self denial as the discipline of embrace and openness. Yet, it has required getting out of the house! Turning off the computer, putting down the Kindle, and taking up my journal. It has required the ascetic of all that buffers us from the world.

So, let us, sisters and brothers, deepen our ascetical practice and not flinch from the word. Ascesis—self discipline for religious reasons—invites us to expand what the sphere of religion includes: the earth and our communion with all that is.

Br. Abbot Daniel