Overview of Benedictines Magazine
Fall 2015

Expanding our Vision and Understanding of Future Directions

When I read the account of Christian de Chergé and the other six monks who were murdered in Algeria in 1996, I was deeply touched by their commitment to the Muslims in their neighborhood. They had decided to remain in Thibirine even though they knew their lives were in danger from radical extremists. They had discovered a deep faith in their Muslim friends and wanted to share their lives with them.  

These Trappist monks inspired my interest in Christian-Muslim dialogue and how much we can learn from each other. I knew there were East-West encounters held at Gethsemani, Kentucky, periodically with Catholic and Buddhist monks, and that both sides found these experiences richly rewarding in understanding their own beliefs and appreciating the faith of others. Heightening the importance of this kind of dialogue, the Gregorian University in Rome has opened  a Centre for Interreligious Studies in the 2015-2016 academic year. 

Since Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the Church’s relation to other religious traditions, Catholics have been urged to “recognize, preserve, and promote” the spiritual values of other traditions. William Skudlarek, OSB, who has long been involved in interreligious dialogue, gives a wonderful history of the involvement of monks in East-West dialogue.  He is a charter member of DIMMID, a monastic interreligious group that seeks to promote understanding between Eastern and Western monks.  According to Skudlarek, monks today continue to cross cultural and religious boundaries and share Christian de Chergé’s conviction that “To speak of God in another way is not to speak of another God.”

In another article, Abbot James Wiseman, OSB, shares the story of Henri Le Saux/Abhishiktananda, a pioneer in Hindu-Christian dialogue. Le Saux went to India to bring Christian monastic life to that country and in the process became attracted to Hinduism. In fact, he became a strict follower of Hinduism’s highest stage of life, sannyasa. Wiseman believes we can learn many spiritual values from Hinduism and Abhishiktananda.

A presenter at Gethsemani Encounter IV in May 2015, Becky Van Ness offers three signs of spiritual maturation from Buddhist psychology that she finds invaluable for the spiritual direction program at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary. She speaks of these signs leading to a “contemplative presence,” so necessary in a spiritual guide. She also incorporates the Benedictine themes of lectio divina, hospitality, conversatio morum, and stability in guiding future spiritual directors. 

On a different topic, Sister Susan Hutchens, president of the Federation of St. Gertrude, gives an update on what has been happening in her federation and in monastic life in the past several years. Her review of  leadership meetings, the Apostolic Visitation, the LCWR Investigation, and international monastic gatherings is encouraging and insightful. Her exploration of new realities, new responses, and new relationships is visionary and hopeful. Many monastic women and men will resonate with her observations. 

These authors give us much to think about as we travel through unknown territory. It will take men and women of courage to embark on a path “without a roadmap,” as Sister Susan Hutchens says. Perhaps we can learn from our Eastern monks as we continue our search for God through murky and messy wastelands. We are called to be “wayfinders, those who are willing to walk out of, or into, the darkness.” We need to become cartographers for future generations of monastics.

Barbara Mayer, OSB