Monday, March 23, 2009

Seeking God and Benedictine Spirituality

In 1984 I bought a small Fount Paperback. It was called Seeking God, by Esther de Waal. It was an Archbishop of Canterbury Lent book, an exposition of the Rule of St Benedict intended to encourage non monastics to live by the key principles of the Rule. This wasn't as odd, quaint, daft, as some people thought at the stime. Nor was it an attempt to make the Saul's armour of monastic spirituality fit spiritual striplings facing their own Goliaths in the culture wars of the eighties!

Instead De Waal presented a sensible, attractive and simple set of ideals that had helped transform the outward direction and inner temper of Christian spirituality. By placing several spiritual practices at the centre of community life, the Rule aimed to create a balance between individual and community, to provide liturgical rhythm and equilibrium, and to establish Christian community as a stable commitment of covenant relations intended to last for life. I'm on my third copy of De Waal's book - the first turned brown and the glue on the spine cracked leaving me with a collection of ad hoc pamphlets held together with a rubber band - cannae be daein wi' that! The replacement second copy I lent to someone about 1997, and I hope they still enjoy it (I'm not bitter, honest). My current copy has also now been read and used enough to show signs of wear and tear - but it's still in print. And I'm not surprised because it is a life enhancing and life affirming book - and completely transformed my understanding of what that journey we call seeking God is like. It also provided a short list of essential virtues for pastoral work, and a framework within which virtues grow out of values by being practiced with disciplined regularity, as habits of the heart lived out in relationship with others.

Listening, to God, to each other, and to God through each other, and listening as alert docility before the text of Scripture; stability, that commitment to people and place that does not see walking away as an option; change, as conversion of life, the transformative shaping of the Spirit through the sacrament of community; balance, avoiding those excesses and extemes so characteristic of overspiritual drivenness, opting instead for moderation in all things bu the love of God; material things, to be enjoyed and gratefully recieved, and also to be enjoyed and generously given away; people, those whom God gives to us to be part of the community in which we live and move and have our being - not our choice who God sends, just our requirement to love; authority, in Benedictine terms under the Abbott, and while I resist the idea that one person has authority over another's spiritual life, I do recognise the wisdom of willing submission to the wisdom and guidance of the trusted friend, even the trusted community; prayer as way of life, as daily rhythm, as lectio divina, as the offer of praise and intercession, love for God and others enfolded in the love of God.

All this and more, distilled from the Rule opf St Benedict and written in accessible style by one who herself practices the Rule in a lay context. As one example of the pastoral wisdom of the Rule of Benedict:

Your way of acting should be different from the world's way:

the love of Christ must come before all else.

You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge.

Rid your heart of all deceit.

Never give a hollow greeting of peace,

or turn away when someone needs your love.

Imagine reading that, and committing to living it, on a Monday morning at the beginning of whatever your week looks like - how transformative of workplace, community and home if that ideal of the monk were the reality of Christian daily practice..........hmmmm?
Jim Gordon.

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