For the past several months, after I finished Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option (through which I also blogged my way), I’ve been creeping my way through the Rule of St Benedict. Next week I’ll round up all the Benedict(ine) material on this blog. For now — what now?
There are many lessons we can take away from the Rule, many of which are thrown into sharper relief when considered alongside Scripture, the Rule‘s context, other monastic literature, and later Benedictines. My own lumping mind has tended to do this. If you want those in detail, enjoy.
But, having come to the end, what should we be doing now, with this mid-sixth-century rule for beginning monks, designed in central Italy to run a school in the Lord’s service that, due to several historical events in the text’s history, became the norm for western Christian monasticism from about 800 onward?
Some main themes that emerge for us non-monastic, layfolk of the 21st century:
- Silence. Benedictines are encouraged not to talk. In that silence they engage in:
- Prayer. Regular, routine prayer. Sort it out. Make yourself a little prayer rule. Join us at The Witness Cloud.
- Scripture reading. Get on that, too. Figure out a rhythm of reading and studying the Bible regularly.
- Work — usually physical, but maybe illuminating manuscripts or whatever. Seek how to glorify God in your work.
- Community. This, for me, is always the hardest (at least in person). Find a way to invest in your church, the other Christians around you, your family, et al. Figure out how to go deeper, how to find that tantalising, elusive spiritual friendship written of so beautifully by the great Cistercian St Aelred of Rievaulx.
These are the biggest, I think. One could add: submission to fellow believers and church authorities. That would probably revolutionise our lives in ways we can’t imagine.
What is great about these, though, is that they point us not back to Benedict or to the history of Christian monasticism and spirituality, but back to Jesus, to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Body of Christ, the church. Let us set our minds on things above. This is what Benedict envisaged. It is a message as timely now as in the year 540.
But … if you do want more ancient monks, check out Benedict’s influences, especially John Cassian, and his contemporaries, such as the Greek fathers in The Philokalia, vol. 1. Then, maybe cross the Irish Sea and rest with St Brigid. And whatever wisdom you find there to apply, take it all to Christ. Enter more deeply and richly into the mystery of his love.
This is what the great mystics, contemplatives, preachers, ascetics, and others of the rich tradition of Christian spirituality would call you to.
Prefer nothing to Christ (The Rule of St Benedict, ch. 72).