The week before Advent is, in the monastery, one of two weeks in the year designated for us to go thoughtfully through the things in our cells and repatriate communal items to public spaces. The idea is to make exterior space ahead of Advent so there is hope of being able to make interior space. But simply to make more interior space for ourselves and our own spiritual comfort is not the point of the exercise.
In the Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 5 on Obedience, we read, “The Lord…tells teachers: ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me’” and “It is love that impels disciples to pursue everlasting life; therefore they are eager to take the narrow road….They no longer live by their own judgment, giving in to their whims and appetites; rather they walk according to another’s decisions and directions, choosing to live in monasteries and to have an abbot over them.” “Whoever listens to you listens to me, whoever receives you, or one such in my name, receives me.”
In these weeks there has been a great deal of talk in America about whether to welcome certain refugees and strangers into our midst. Here in the monastery, this is ultimately what our exercise of making space is about, what our practice of obedience is about. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me”—and conversely, “whatever you have done to the least of these you have done to me.” The progression goes like this: make space physically; make space spiritually; receive hospitably those parts and ways in ourselves that seem fearfully strange and alien and that, for many reasons, perhaps we would just as soon cut adrift; and finally, receive hospitably, carefully, hopefully, those things in each other. This is fundamental, the groundwork of obedience that has to be done if we would receive actual others to live in our midst, not least the stranger who is God.