Sit in Your Cell in Paradise by Bob Ritzema
I recently ran across the Brief Rule of the Camaldolese order, part of the Benedictine family of monastic communities. The first Camaldolese community was established by St. Romuald, an Italian monk, about a thousand years ago. I was particularly struck by the first line:
“Sit in your cell as in paradise.”
I have traveled a fair amount this year. I’ve been to Israel and to several states in the US. I’ve seen some places that have some semblance to paradise, especially the desert waters of En Gedi, the tree-burdened hills of the San Juan Islands, and the peaceful perfection of my friend Collette’s suburban meditation garden. I don’t spend time regularly in any of these places, though. None qualifies as my cell. Of course I don’t have a literal cell equivalent to a monk’s residence, but I do have a room where I sleep, read, write, and pray. What would it be like to regard that place as paradise?
Dictionary definitions of paradise emphasize two aspects. First, ‘paradise’ can refer to a special place created by God where humans receive blessings not available in everyday life, particularly the Garden of Eden or heaven. Neither a monk’s cell nor my room meets that standard. Perhaps an element of paradise as a special God-given place can be present in these mundane locales, though. Perhaps St. Romuald was expanding the notion of paradise to refer to any place where the monk could feel God’s presence and experience spiritual betterment. That sort of paradise certainly can take place in my room–in fact it does so regularly. Every morning I take a little time to reflect on the previous day, focusing on where I felt the divine presence, what concerns that presence brought to my attention, and how I responded. I write a paragraph or two describing whatever this examination of the day brings to mind. The few minutes I take to do this are time spent in paradise–time spent with God that edifies me.
Second, dictionaries define paradise as “a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight,” as Merriam-Webster puts it. I’m not particularly prone to experiences of bliss, at least not ecstatic ones. For me, felicity and delight occur more often. Felicity can be a synonym for happiness, and can also refer to any condition that produces happiness. When I am too busy to spend time alone in my room–remembering, reflecting, and meditating–I feel out of sorts, as if some part of me is missing. Retreating there for a half-hour or more is felicitous for me; it results in contentment and happiness throughout the day. As for delight, that emotion occasionally occurs during my time in my room, especially when my review of the previous day brings to mind memories that are joyous or exhilarating. I may have had some delight when the event I’m remembering originally occurred, but in the moment delight is usually fleeting. I savor such things more when I’m alone, in my room.
So, “sit in your cell as in paradise,” whether in God’s presence or in the company of your own thoughts and reflections. Be at peace, and take that peace with you throughout the rest of your day.
By Bob Ritzema