A few years ago the congregation of Christ Church did a pretty deep dive into Benedictine spirituality. I’m not sure exactly how deep the dive was but I do know many were exposed to the Rule of St. Benedict in the process.
I have practiced a form of the Benedictine way for almost 40 years. After my first visit to a Benedictine monastery-an Episcopal Benedictine monastery- in upstate NY, it became evident to me quickly that this rule of life, The Rule of St. Benedict, , written some 1500 years ago, and still followed in every Benedictine monastery in the world, had something to offer me in my spiritual life, though I was a lay person without any interest in becoming a monk. Since those first visits to Holy Cross Monastery, I have felt at home with the simple balance and authentic spirituality that Benedictine life offers all, not just monks. This affinity to the Rule and that monastery led me to become an Associate of Holy Cross (oblate in other monasteries) that requires me to have a personal rule of life that is updated annually. During Lent we are going to embark on a program that will result in those interested writing a personal rule of life.
For many years now, I have led retreats and quiet days in various places, including the National Cathedral, called “St. Benedict for the Rest of Us.” These retreats are designed to provide a simple explanation of the core principles of Benedictine life that could be used by anyone. Recently, since taking this position with Christ Church, I have begun to reflect on what those principles are and how we are already practicing many of them and perhaps should explore more to strengthen our faith community here in Lucketts.
As we begin this new year maybe some of these Benedictine principles can be of value to you in your spiritual life as well. Below is a brief explanation of a principle and then some questions (in bold type) for your consideration.
Community-we have a very strong faith community at Christ Church. And in my opinion, Christianity requires community to provide individuals with partners along the journey. But community is more than just more people. It’s also more people with a purpose. A church does that. But so does our family, friends and even co-workers. At the heart of a spiritual community is a willingness to be there for each other, to pray with each other, to serve each other.. And the heart of healthy community is the desire to understand what might be standing in the way of the community serving its purpose as a support system, not only for our prayer life, but for our entire life. How can we make our communities more fulfilling? What ‘communities in your life’ need some attention? could use some work? Is there a community you might consider joining or even starting?
Balance-if the rule of St. Benedict is about anything, it’s about a balanced life. St. Benedict spends much of the rule talking about the importance of the monk or nun in balancing a life of prayer, reading, leisure (yes, leisure), work and community. It’s so important that much of the Rule, just 9000 words long, regulates the day of the nun or monk and what a nun or monk may own… How balanced is your life? We can look at things like money, church, family, leisure time, possessions…and ask, do I have a balanced approach to these things? Do I find myself spending too much time on things that don’t matter rather than things that do matter? And are there people, communities, projects that overwhelm me and demand too much of my time? How can we shed some of those things. And that may include people too…some people bring us down, they overwhelm our lives…sometimes we have to say goodbye to people who unbalance our lives.
Simplicity-the Rule is also about living a simple life where we have what we need and don’t seek to have what we don’t need. But a simple life is more than a review of how many possessions we own. It is also about looking at the things above in the Balance Section and working on making sure we approach all of life in a less complicated way. This has been the most important part of the rule for me. In 2007 I made a promise to simplify my life in as many ways as I could. Simplifying is an ongoing effort not something that starts and stops so I still have a lot to still simplify…but I’m making progress. When I started this process I asked myself questions like–do I have enough stuff? Do I really need more? Is my life dominated by something or someone that where they shed I would be happier? What is complicating my life and how can I make it simpler? And do I have possessions that own me rather than the other way around? (My Christ Church family has heard the message where I told of buying a Rolex and a BMW in the same year…ugh…just who owned whom, I asked.)
Prayer–Monasteries exist so women and men can dedicate themselves to prayer. One monk friend of mine said to me once “you know Kurt, I came here to pray…not to make fruitcakes, not to offer guidance and retreats, not to lead others…I came here to pray.” Then he said something even more striking to me: “and I came here to die.” This one monk, in this simple explanation to me showed me a way for all people. We seek to die to be with Christ. We pray along the way to be with him while we are here. It is in this prayer, regular prayer, that we encounter him every day and maybe in all things. How strong is your prayer life? Do you spend time every day in prayer? Is time with Jesus more, for you, than coming to church on Sunday?
Rest-Often people are shocked when I tell them monks and nuns have days off and take retreats…What! people ask…aren’t they off every day and on retreat all the time? We can talk about how busy the monastery is in a later post. But for now let’s just reflect on how much requirement for leisure is in the Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict knew this life was hard, prayer is hard! And he knew everyone needed respite from this hard work. How much leisure do you build into your life, your day even? Are you a workaholic who doesn’t seem to ever take a break? How can we really be intentional about having ‘down time?’
There is much more in the Rule that we can all use. In future posts we’ll explore other aspects of Benedictine life like work, relationships and food…yes, food.