Monday, November 14, 2011

In the Habit

Imagine this:  a woman just entering monastic life prepares to don a habit for the first time.  She looks at the pieces of fabric folded neatly on a table before her.  Soft  veil, long dress, layers of material she has waited to wear.  Her new habit smells like it was dried in the sun and pressed with just a hint of starch.  It carries the scent of the wind. 

She picks up the dress and slips it on, sliding it down over the stained orange jumper she wore through the enclosure door.  She lifts the veil onto her head, covering a tattered woolen hat.  The veil snags on her mismatched earrings, but never mind.  She’ll get used to all of this, in time. 

Certainly the scene I've just described is ridiculous.  But let us consider this....“Clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12).  I look at these and other virtues and find myself desiring to “wear” them.  But if I make deliberate choices to boast as I pretend to be humble, or if I'm cruel even as I write of mercy, I am simply hiding one kind of clothing under another.  I’m applying a layer of veneer.  I am in need of a habit exchange. 

Habits are actions acquired over a period of time, with repetition.  I ask myself:  would I like to cast off lifelong habits of self-seeking in order to let God clothe me in the habit of seeking His will?  Am I willing to turn in my habit of laziness in exchange for diligence in prayer?   For me it remains a constant struggle, and I take heart in knowing I am not the only person to have faced it.  “I cannot even understand my own actions,” wrote the apostle Paul.  “I do not do what I want to do but what I hate… what a wretched man I am!  Who can deliver me from this body under the power of death?  All praise to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 8:15-25)

I pray to cast off my threadbare, tattered vices and see them as the worthless rags they are.  I pray to outgrow them, and to - through prayer and practice – develop habits of virtue.  I pray to be clothed in the habit of a cloistered heart. 

“You must lay aside your former way of life, and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth.” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

(painting La Religieuse, Henriette Browne)