The Jogging Monk and the Seminary Student
There is a wonderful story about an aspiring seminary student and the “jogging monk.” It seems that a certain seminary student had found the arid and rarified airs of the academy study spiritually draining. After several years he knew he was in need of spiritual renewal; he felt dry and empty inside. So he decided to go to a retreat center for five days of silence and prayer.
When he arrived he was assigned a monk who would be his spiritual director for an hour each day. How disappointed he was! His monk was not the wise old man he had imagined in his mind but a young man who wore running shorts and shoes under his cowl. The student’s only assignment for the day was to meditate on the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38)–the story of Mary and the angel. After an hour, he had “sliced and diced” the entire passage: He’d outlined it; uncovered the theological assumptions, implications, and finer points; and he was done…bored…lonely. He was alone with himself & his own emptiness. He’d come to find spiritual bliss and now, with the walls closing in and nothing to divert him, he was experiencing emptiness and desolation.
The next day he met with the monk again to discuss his spiritual life and he asked what had happened with the text. The seminary student told him that he’d come up with a few insights but, for the most part, it had been a dull.
“What was your aim in reading this passage?” the monk asked.
“To get the meaning of the text,” answered the student.
“What else is there?”
The monk’s answer is worth hearing: “There is much more than just finding out what a text says and what it means. There are also questions: What did it teach you? What did it say to you? What particularly struck you about the passage?” And most importantly, where and how did you experience God in your reading. Read not so much with your head, but more with your heart.”
The student’s assignment was to read the same text again for the next day. He went back to his cell and, for hours, tried and failed repeatedly. He wasn’t even sure what it was he was supposed to be doing. He only knew that he was empty, bored, and failing. The third day he met again with the monk and in despair told of his failure. Then, for the first time, he began to actually listen to his guide: “You’re trying too hard. It’s not you who make things happen, it is God who reveals himself to you. Go back and read this passage again. But this time, be open to receive whatever God has for you. Just receive; don’t try to manipulate God; simply make yourself available to him. Open your Bible, read it slowly; listen to what it’s saying to you, reflect, and wait.”
The student went back to his cell and tried again to do what he was told….and failed…again He was angry, frustrated, and defeated. After an hour he finally shouted, “I give up! You win!” He slumped over in his chair and began to sob. And that, he believes, was the moment God was waiting for. A short time later he picked up his Bible and read the famous words of Mary, “Let it be to me according to your word.” He heard the words of the angel, “You have found favor with God,” and “do not be afraid.” But they were no longer words on a page, a story in the Bible about someone else. He began to let himself experience his own “favoredness” with God. He began to ask himself, “What is it I’m afraid of.” He began to think in terms of what it would mean for him to answer, like Mary, “Let it be to me according to your word.” What would happen to him if he lived his life in that kind of active listening and responsive surrender to God?
The student ends his account of the retreat with these words: “The end was much better than the beginning. My “jogging monk” was pleased to see that I had relearned how to read the Bible. “He gave me different passages to meditate on for the remainder of the retreat, and like Mary, I was able to “ponder” them in my heart.” Amen. God make it so in our lives too.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Don Muncie