PEDAGOGY IN THE SCHOOL OF CHARITY

COMMUNICATION IN OUR COMMUNITIES

Dom Isidoro of Huerta

The subject you have invited me to talk about, communication at the present time in our monasteries, can be considered, not without reason, within the pedagogical framework of the school of charity that constitutes our communities. But like every pedagogue, it can be either good or bad. Consequently, it will depend greatly on how we understand and live communication at the moment of evaluating whether it is good or bad pedagogy, conducive to charity.

DO WE COMMUNICATE ?

This question seems rather obvious but the truth is that not everyone thinks the same way. As a life of silence and prayer as well as a community life are both essential in our vocation, we should not find it strange that we always encounter a certain tension when it comes to facing the subject of communication. Speech and silence, relationship with God and with our brothers, these are the two rails along which we move forward in our monastic life of the following of Christ.

Obviously, we do communicate! It suffices to glance over the House Reports of Poyo '93 and see that in the far greater part of them there is an expressed "mea culpa" because of excessive verbal communication. But well do we know that the problem lies neither in speaking nor in keeping silence, but rather, in knowing how to express ourselves in speech as in silence. The Abbot General reminded the Spanish Region last year that there are very boisterous communities in which there is no communication and there exist very silent communities with an authentic communion. Balance is the point towards which we must direct ourselves.

We see the need, therefore, of reflecting on what communication is for us, on how we go about it, what we are communicating, if we communicate ourselves or just simply communicate, what difficulties we encounter, and what it is that helps us.

WHAT DO WE UNDERSTAND BY COMMUNICATION?

When we speak of communication it may be that we do not always coincide on what we are talking about. Immediately, dialogue comes to mind; a dialogue that since the Council has changed the physiognomy of our communities so as to bring them into tune with the times in which it falls to us to live. But well do we know that communication is much more than verbal expression. It is the body language ( gestures, attitudes, postures, conduct that is seen by the other) that contains a message. It is, consequently, an interpersonal relationship.

Neither is our style of communication free from the influence of the media of social communication that quickly inform us about everything that is happening without allowing time for reflection, and encourage a form of superinformed but superficial society wherein there are people who feel they are islands in need of being personally heard and welcomed.

This results in that not a few young people may enter our houses with a sincere desire to share their interior world. Nevertheless, we must take into account that in an eminently sensory culture, this increase in the desire to communicate oneself has one peculiarity: it stems above all from feeling, affectivity or emotiveness. It is a necessity to express what one feels and at the same time to find in the help of another the support which heretofore could be found with greater ease within one's self, in values accepted and shouldered and which at the present time are in crisis. Perhaps it is because of this that today we are more cognizant of the need for dialoguing or just speaking, while silence is regarded by the young as a not well understood imposition. They need time to discover communication as an expression of communion.

Dom Ambrose Southey used to say a few years ago, when speaking of today's youth in our monasteries, that there is a noticeable esteem for prayer, but also a need for a process of purification. It is frequently noted that what many young people are truly looking for, consciously or unconsciously, is experiences or sensible manifestations of God or of the supernatural. In other words, they are seeking themselves and not God.

Something similar could be said regarding the need for communication. This also needs to be purified so that it not remain a mere desire for escape and affective compensation in a hostile world, "feeling" the acceptance of others, their company and support, instead of a giving of one's self and an acceptance of the other for himself.

Communication is to give something of self and to receive something of the other in order to share it. But we cannot transmit anything if we have not first entered into our own interior and in our inner sanctuary have communicated with our selves and with the Spirit of the Lord who lives there. If in our communities one does not live in love and out of love, there can be no true communication. Frequently, we spend our energy seeking out forms of communication without going to the essential, without first being clear as to what we want to communicate. If this is lacking our methods and reflections will be nothing more than a lovely garment adorning an abominable being; it frightens off anyone who is coming close. And perhaps in our blindness we keep on asking how this can be possible when the wrapping was so beautiful.

When our communication springs from love, community is lived not only as a means for personal sanctification, a school wherein we exercise ourselves in charity itself, but as a true presence of the love of God who makes us one in Himself. It is then that a three-way communication is achieved with the third person who is not a stranger to us but dwells within us. When we seek nothing other than our own perfection, and even more so if we do not seek it at all, authentic communication with one's brother i.e. the setting aside of self and the welcome acceptance of the other disappears, and what appears is our disfigured relationship with God, which at best is patiently to tolerate the other, to try to emend him, to have our own opinion prevail etc.,but there will never be dialogue and authentic communication from a spirit of faith.

Our union with God is prior to communion with our brother, although in this communion the union is accomplished and grows. This itself allows us to communicate with others with the solidity and liberty of our communion with God, that is, without being dependent on the positive or negative reaction of the other, but rather by transcending it, thus being able to make possible what on occasion may turn out to be impossible. It is the fruit of what our Fathers speak so much, to love Christ in the brother despite the not very attractive manifestations; it is to live the sacramentality of the community as the body of the Lord, the total Christ. It is not possible to enter into true communion-communication with God, if we do not open ourselves to communion with the brethren, the sacrament of His presence and of our union with Him. For this reason living in community affords us the great advantage of verifying the truthfulness of our communion with God.

Thus, our communication with the brothers is an expression of our "communication" of love and friendship with Him who called us to live together His mystery of love. In this relationship there is something beyond us, something that makes pedagogues of us even without our intending it, the spirit of the Lord who causes us to discover His love even in the negative attitudes of the brothers, impelling us to put love where there is no love, instead of succumbing to the negative manifestation of the other, the result of a passing bad mood of his. Seen in this way, communication is no longer a one-to-one thing, but something that concerns three as I have already said: the one who transmits, the one who receives, and the spirit of the Lord who gives light to both the one and the other. It is then that we are capable of communicating indeed, beyond the coherence or exactitude of what we are saying.

In the measure that a community opens itself generously to this dynamic of faith and openly talks about it, without any false shame - in this measure does true communication grow beyond whatever apt or inept forms of self-expression we may use. We all have the right to err; when all is said and done it is our condition - but we do not have the right to succumb by refusing to see things in the spirit of faith, by refusing to cherish the Lord in the heart of the community.

Actually, communication goes beyond forms of communication. Since it is life, it is fitting that we distance ourselves from its outer wrappings knowing, however, that we cannot prescind from it. What am I trying to say? When we discover and accept that we are not our manias and feelings that surface in us and which we cannot easily overcome, then we can better objectify our interior lived experience. This will help us discover that the same thing is happening in our brother and will enable us to be better prepared to grasp what he really is, the life that is his and which he communicates to us. It will also prevent us from confusing what he really is with those unfortunate expressions that we all have and, which though they manifest something of what we are, do at one and the same time conceal the deepest part of ourselves.

WHAT ARE WE COMMUNICATING?

Today we are experiencing a great need for communication. But it is precisely this "need" to communicate that determines the quality of communication. The desire to communicate-share an experience that one has had and integrated is very different from the communication of oneself out of a need to be listened to, to be taken into account, a need that springs from fear of one's own experience in the solitude of the heart. In the first instance we are capable of offering something of ourselves gratuitously; in the second, what really interests us is the positive response of the other.

In order to communicate one's self one needs to give something of self and to love the other. The angry or cutting expresssion communicates only my tormented interior state but it avails nothing towards growth in love unless it be developed by the listener from the vantage point of meekness, thus giving rise to peace in him who before did not have it.

I have seen brothers who communicate themselves bitterly. It must be said that instead of communicating they are manifesting their own anemic state because they are not revealing what they truly have within, nor do others listen to them as properly as they ought. I have seen brothers who are impetuous and even hard of character but who have a big heart and an interior life. It is curious how the community knows how to receive the message from both the one and the other, and this because communication is much more than words or forms. When we communicate ourselves we communicate life.

It costs us nothing to communicate what can be seen, what appears to the eyes of others, or what is obvious. Such does not commit us (work, news, etc.). It is the type of communication we most use. Nevertheless, what enters into the sphere of our feelings or intimate experiences we no longer manifest so easily. What is needed is an atmosphere of trust and friendship wherein one knows that he is welcomed by the other without more ado. In any case, it is easier to manifest past feelings than that which is happening in the present, or those feelings relative to the brother who is in front of me all day long. Some, especially among the young, would like more of this type of communication, but in reality it can occur only if a climate of unity and friendship has been created, and then this type of communication of self does increase communion even more; contrariwise, one runs the risk of promoting incomprehension.

We all know very well that the quality of communication in our communities does not depend so much on meetings or the possibilitiy of dialogue as upon an intense lived experience of love and fidelity within the community. When this is present the community communicates, and communicates itself, simply because it has something to communicate; it has life.

HOW DO WE COMMUNICATE OURSELVES? DIVERSE FORMS OF COMMUNICATION IN OUR COMMUNITIES.

The types of communication in our communities differ. There is a form of communication that is lived and that does not always achieve expression. It is communication, the fruit of authentic communion. I give myself to the other and I receive him beyond signs or words. I feel I am united to the community and this transmits life. When contact with a community is first established, one senses something positive or negative which is outwardly transmitted and which is the fruit of the degree of communion, distinct from comradeship.

There is another type of communication accomplished by a multitude of wordless gestures. This kind is irremediably present in our communities, be it positive or negative because we are not solitaries but cenobites. Hence, even the one who separates himself from the community or lives a tense silence is already giving a clear sign that he is excommunicating himself. By means of these gestures and attitudes we communicate our interior world which we ourselves do not always succeed in knowing.

There is another type which is the direct one; it is between two brothers or it is that of the entirety of the community. The first has great possibilities because a true friendship can be cultivated. Both the one and the other reveal our personal human and spiritual quality and the experience that we have of the love of God which impels us to grow in the school of charity. If this is so, I wonder why it is that when our communities talk about the economy, plans, liturgies, work or one's neighbor, we expatiate so easily and when we touch a subject of a more spiritual cast we respectfully withdraw? It is true that to speak of our feelings makes us more reticent, but at times it is also a sign that our interior life is not so firm. Perhaps, as we noted before, what is needed is an adequate climate of trust that does not always exist.

We are also in need of an apprenticeship in communication by bearing very much in mind how we function at a psychological level (self image, feelings that the other may cause, expectations) but I am not going into that because it was stipulated that we should not concentrate on this aspect.

In general, I believe we can say that communication in our communities is as diverse as are the components which go to make them up. It occurs at a superficial level, but also at a deep one. Much depends on one's own interior experience and the atmosphere of communion existing in the community. Without any doubt, for a community to enter into spiritual depth is not very frequent, and yet we should hold to it as to a possibly attainable challenge. It is something towards which we all should strive for the proper enrichment of the community.