Jesus Bids Us Deconstruct, and Monks Make a Vow of Ongoing Deconstruction

Ongoing Conversion

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; deconstruct, then reconstruct in a new way, and believe in the gospel. [Mark My Words 1:15]

In my previous post here at Sick Pilgrim, I spoke of the Greek noun metanoia (mind change, or change of mind) and the Greek verb metanoein (to change mind).

In the original Greek of the Gospels, Jesus uses the verb metanoein (to change mind), which does not carry the emotional, psychological load of the word that English translations use: repent (feel remorse, regret, be sorry, rue, reproach oneself, be ashamed, feel contrite).

Here’s a translation of Matthew 4:17 with change minds, instead of repent: Change your minds, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

And here’s a translation of Mark 1:15 with change of minds, instead of repent: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; change your minds, and believe in the gospel.

The word conversion is somewhat useful as a translation for metanoia, but only if one remembers that metanoia is the conversion of the mind.

So, Jesus does not have in mind that we should undertake to have guilty feelings.

Rather, he is calling us to a converted, changed or new way of thinking, one that we work to gain since we have chosen to believe in the gospel.

And let’s remember that gospel is an Old English word for news or a message that is good, so that the word gospel is a good and correct, true translation of the Greek word Jesus uses in the gospels: euangelion.

The Greek word euangelion does not mean emotionally glad or happy news, as opposed to bad news (by which English means news that calls forth sadness, anger, or fear); rather, euangelion means news or a message that is morally good.

So: Change your minds and believe in the good news. [Mark 1:15]

Change?

Yes, so you’ll need to deconstruct what you had in mind up to now, and then you’ll need to reconstruct your mind, your thinking, in a new way that follows from believing the gospel, the good news, that Jesus teaches.

Throughout the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we see Jesus deconstructing mindsets, ways of thinking, regarding God, neighbor, and self for the sake of reconstructing the mindset in a new way regarding God, neighbor, and self.

If we want to have the metanoia, the changed mind, that Jesus is calling forth, then we need to read the gospels, to look for conflicts there regarding the teachings of Jesus, and to work at believing, taking the side of Jesus in those controversies.

That also means challenging ourselves to recognize we personally might share partly or wholly, sometimes or always, in the old mindsets of those who oppose Jesus in the gospels.

It also means looking honestly at the behaviors and deeds of Jesus while asking if our own behaviors and deeds resemble his.

This kind of work can split our life in two, saying no to our older way of life, letting it die away, but with a new way of being really alive to God, neighbor, and self; it is to bear our own crosses and walk behind Jesus, so we can be his disciples who are truly alive. [See Matthew 10:38 and 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23 and 14:27]

And now, yes, monks make a vow of ongoing deconstruction.

People in the religious orders make vows, and most Catholics think the names of those vows are poverty, celibacy, and obedience.

But that is not entirely accurate.

Those three vows or names for vows arose only after A.D. 1100 or so.

What we now call religious orders evolved from somewhat spontaneous lay movements that began before A.D. 400 in the deserts of Egypt, that were not called religious orders, that were not governed by church laws, and that anyone could start up without permission from church authorities.

More formal organization and codification of these movements developed little by little.

One such organizer and code writer was born in A.D. 480 in Italy: St. Benedict.

He spelled out the following three vows:
obedience to the monastery’s superior, to the monastery’s community, to the monastery’s rules,
stability, that is, lifelong perseverance in one specific monastery), and
ongoing conversion of one’s ways.

St. Benedict, writing in Latin, called the third of those vows conversatio morum suorum.

The Latin language has a grammatical frequentative form, that is, a form expressing the frequent repetition or intensity of an action.

The Latin conversio (giving English the word conversion) means turn around.

Its Latin frequentative is conversatio, meaning conversion that is frequent, repeated, continuous, perpetual, or ongoing.

In Latin it does not mean non-stop speaking (which monks must avoid).

English, however, has inherited the Latin word as conversation: speech that turns around repeatedly between at least two persons.

But let’s turn back around to speak of the monk’s vow of ongoing conversion of his ways.

St. Benedict puts forth this vow as part of a monk’s lifelong seeking to change mind and believe in the good news.

In working out the way of life for his monastery, Benedict wove its schedule around gathering the monks together in the oratory for eight daily shorter and longer sessions of communal worship in the form of hymns, Psalms, and readings.

Those eight daily gatherings were Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.

Benedict fit sleep, meals, and work between those gatherings.

He also set aside a daily period of about three hours for the monks to each pray alone— but to pray using a discipline called lectio divina, literally, divine reading.

It is divine because it is devoted to the divine word, the Bible, as a means for interacting with God.

Its goal is not quantity of reading, but depth: interiorly mulling, wrestling, quarreling, debating, disagreeing, agreeing, digesting, absorbing, and possibly changing over even so little as one word from the divine text.
[Note. The book monks often recommend as the best overall for learning about lectio divina is Michael Casey’s “Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina.”]

Although a monk is free to add other forms of private prayer, such as the rosary, visiting and adoring the Blessed Sacrament, Stations of the Cross, novenas, and others, lectio divina is the only form necessary and mandatory for being a monk.

One takes up lectio divina as a lifework whose ideal outcome would be growth in intuitive, intimate knowledge of God and oneself.

Although life in a monastery makes it possible to give at least a couple of hours each day to lectio divina, even people who are not monks can take up the practice according to whatever time they can set aside for it.

One is free to choose texts for lectio divina according to one’s own discernments, and I personally prefer to turn again and again to the four gospels.

Working to know Christ in the gospels is an ongoing way for me to seek over the course of my lifetime to change mind and believe in the good news.

I made a monk’s vow of ongoing conversion, that is, ongoing deconstruction and ongoing reconstruction:
Turn. Love. Repeat.

Ongoing Conversion
Ongoing Conversion

Published by Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, O.S.B.

Benedictine Monk and Priest of Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, California, in the Order of Saint Benedict

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