What is this spiritual yearning thing?


The ABC in Australia has recently put to air a TV series called The Abbey. The premise of the series was that five ordinary women would go to live with a community of contemplative nuns for five weeks. The Benedictine Abbey at Jamberoo in New South Wales was the host for the women, including them in their community for the five weeks. They participated in the whole life of the community – the prayer, work, silence, teaching and so on. The experiences of the women as they make their journey provided the viewer with a window into the contemplative monastic life.

I thought it was a terrific series, because it provided an honest look at the life of both groups of women – the ‘ordinary women’, and the nuns. One thing it did bring up, and something I wanted to write about today, was the phenomenon of spiritual yearning.

What came across very clearly throughout the series was the hunger in the women for some form of the sacred in their lives. In the context of the Abbey, of course, that was explored in a Christian form, but I guess if it had been about five people in a Buddhist community, it would have been explored in that form. It seems to me that there is a great deal of hunger for the sacred in our world today, and that much of the personal grief, pain, addiction and loneliness that we suffer (and which is then writ large in the world) is a result of seeking for the sacred in inappropriate places – at least, I know it has been in my life. I guess it is possible that others don’t experience the need as I do, but I suspect it is a common experience for all of humanity, which can be met through a variety of expressions.

All of these women identified in themselves a yearning for relationship with God. It took being able to go into the silence, to pray, reflect, meditate, step back from the world, to identify it within themselves. Our world is so busy, and so intent on seducing us into ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ that we don’t often get a chance to just be quiet, and I think it is only in that space we can actually ‘get going’ with the work.

One thing that the women were exposed to, and to which they were definitely not used, was praying. The nuns, as part of their life, pray in the chapel seven times a day, using the Liturgy of the Hours. That immerses them in scripture, in silence, and draws them into the heart of God, where they can pray for the rest of the world. For most people in the world that very full expression of prayer won’t work in their daily lives – there isn’t time or space. But there is some time and space in everyone’s life, and if there isn’t, it is probably time to make some…

Prayer is basically about relationship with God. It isn’t just asking, or telling, but also listening and hearing. It goes together with reading the Bible and living out the commands of Jesus (“love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and your neighbour as yourself”).

Some ways to help you start to pray:
Method X gives some excellent pointers about prayer.
The Spiritual Solution provides an introduction to an ancient way of prayer.
Pray-as-you-Go provides downloadable daily sessions of 10-15 minutes. You listen to them as a way of ‘kick-starting’ your prayer.
Sacred Space is a short written reflection that does much the same thing.
Oremus provides the text of morning, evening and night prayers according to the Church of England’s uses. It is a fuller style of prayer, a sort of compressed Liturgy of the Hours.
Universalis gives the text for the Roman Catholic Church’s Liturgy of the Hours.
The Daily Office according to the Episcopal Church (USA)

If you’re inclined to know more about Benedictine spirituality, you could have a look at the OSB Website, and visit Joan Chittister OSB’s reflections on the Rule of Benedict.

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  1. Thanks for this review and resources.
    We don’t get TV like this in NZ :-(
    I’ve watched the English version on DVD :-)
    I run a spirituality & liturgy site http://www.liturgy.co.nz
    it has a Benedictine flavour, increasing focus on the Liturgy of the Hours, a virtual chapel…

  2. cthornby said

    Thanks for the link – I’ve included it under ‘spirituality’. It’s an excellent resource – thanks.

    I’m sad that New Zealand’s TV landscape is a bit sad – things are getting sadder here, too, with the ever increasing invasion of the banal! Thank goodness for the ABC and SBS!

    Cheers, Colin

  3. I’m not a great TV watcher :-)
    Except Dr Who of course!
    Thanks for the link – I will place a link back at http://www.liturgy.co.nz/links/blogs.html

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