This morning, having finished Befriending Life, I sat down with a stack of books, planning to read a bit from each to see what called to me. (And the winner is...) Henri Nouwen's Genesee Diary hooked me from its first paragraphs; clearly I am hungering (again) for a taste of the monastic life. After having read the first chapter or so, I sat down to meditate and found my time absorbed in questions around simplicity -- how can I achieve a more satisfyingly monastic lifestyle -- but heavily leavened with "what am I supposed to be doing here?"
Part of that is because the other three books were about linking contemplation and art; I found myself asking, "Why are you not publishing books? Why are you not out speaking and giving workshops?" And I'm asking because I just applied last night for another marketing job. I'm sure the appeal of the monastic life, for me, at this point in my own life, is the thought that, supported in a monastery, I wouldn't feel this pressure to earn money; I could just be a blogger and photographer and spend my spare time in prayer and reading...
Part of the appeal of Henri Nouwen's work, of course, is that, like Thomas Merton, he, too struggled mightily with the tension between his longing for silence, solitude, and contemplation and the conflicting longing for attention and self-expression. I think I have to just trust that it's that tension that feeds my writing and my art, and learn to live in that space between. It's a bit like this picture, I think: all the juiciness lives in the space between, at the intersection between the earthiness of the fields and the airiness of the sky.
Speaking of such things, I loved these charming words from Nouwen, written at the end of his first week in the monastery:
"I'd better start thinking a little more about my attitude toward work. If I have learned anything this week, it is that there is a contemplative way of working that is more important for me than praying, reading, or singing. Most people think that you go to the monastery to pray. Well, I prayed more this week than before, but also discovered that I have not learned yet to make the work of my hands into a prayer."
That's the challenge of living the contemplative life, isn't it: how can we become more conscious while walking through our daily tasks? How can we make the work of our hands a prayer?