Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rule of Benedict

As Benedictines, we commit to living according to the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century. March 21 is St. Benedict's feast day, so it seems appropriate today to pose the question: Why would a woman living in 21st century America (or England), choose to live a life whose pattern was laid down by a man, in Italy, 1,500 years ago? I'm setting myself quite a challenge by trying to answer this in 250 words, but here goes...

Much of the Rule gives very practical instruction about how to live daily life. Fundamentally, it takes a holistic view of human beings (body, mind and spirit) through advocating a life of prayer, work, reading and adequate rest. Through the centuries, it has been adapted to suit the time and local conditions, something for which Benedict makes provision. However, there are underlying essentials which are as necessary and precious today as they were to Benedict's own community. It is these that I want to unravel.

For me, the first essential is that Benedict puts God as the primary focus, and seeking God as the essential activity in our lives. Secondly, all through the Rule, he calls us to be our authentic selves. Benedict's community is not about conformity, but about common purpose. The common purpose is seeking God, but each person does it as a unique individual. For Benedict, developing our authenticity comes through humility. By humility, he absolutely does NOT mean having a low opinion of ourselves or exhibiting false modesty. He means that we have to accept ourselves as the flawed human beings that we are, understand our total dependence on God, as opposed to ourselves or others, and understand that God loves us exactly as we are. As we come to develop this true understanding of ourselves, we become more and more able to accept the shortcomings of others, and not just tolerate them, but love them in all their humanness.

Of course, this doesn't happen overnight: it requires patience, perseverance and trust during dark times. It is achieved through struggle, and Benedict's practical "rules" for how we should conduct our lives are intended as a guide to help us manage the struggle. In future blogs I shall be reflecting on the practices of our daily life. Today, I'm content to realize that the reason the Rule calls me is because it grounds me, teaching me to love through humility, and to draw closer to God through loving.

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