Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Benedict--Serving up Rule #2

St. Benedict breathes his last while in prayer, surrounded by his disciples.

I serve on a committee (which identifies me as a bona fide academic) seeking to understand the current state of spiritual life on our campus (Regent University.) That's a tall order, even for a much smaller organization. I've been impressed with our committee chairperson who has insisted on a broad sampling of input from across the campus community, from facility services to undergrad students to Vice Presidents. I've decided its the type of spiritual community I prefer to grow in.

As you may remember, we've been taking a look at a monk from the 5th century named Benedict. He says in his rule, "Whenever weighty matters are to be transacted in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community..." As a spiritual leader, Benny took seriously the call to listen to his followers. (see Rule 1) In fact, he goes on to say, "we said that all should be called for counsel, because the Lord often revealeth to the younger what is best." This equalitarian strain of hearing from all went directly against the iron-willed rule of many monastic communities of the day. In fact, the tenor of the work that most directly influenced Benedict's rule, "The Rule of the Master" could be summarized in the vernacular as "shut up and color!"

What kind of spiritual community are you attracted to? Do you like a rigid, rules-oriented group where your boundaries are clear and your thinking is done for you? Do you prefer strong, directive leaders who have definitive answers to all of life's pressing questions? God bless you, I wish you well. That's just not for me. I like Benedict's eggs better, thank you very much.

I prefer spiritual community which strives to listen to even the least among them as they pursue God's will.

We all live in a cultural context, and in Benny's day, the church had grown rich and powerful, and many thought it had lost its spiritual focus. So Benedict gathered groups of 12 fellow Christ-followers and lived according to his rule, seeking God together as a community. In fact he started 12 such communities, on the model of Jesus who gathered 12 men around him to do life together.

Many consider our times to be similar to Benedict's. Where once our culture was secular and the church spiritual, now the church is secular and culture spiritual. (not necessarily Christian!) Yet as tempting as it is to hole up in a spiritual community with strong leaders who will build the walls high and "keep out the evil" with strong prohibitions, it seems that Benedict has a better rule.

Rule #2 "Listen to one another, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Robert Webber on Advent

Here is a devotional published by Robert Webber on Advent. It captures the journey through such an amazing time of year so much better than the "25 shopping days til Xmas."

Definitely worth the read.

Happy Advent!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Benedict--serving up Rule #1

I have been thinking lately about St. Benedict - and what this ancient monk might have to say to me in my (post) modern life. To save you the "google" Benny was born in Nursia, Italy c. 480 - died c. 547. He was the Abbot of Monte Cassino, and a founder of Christian monastic communities and a rule giver for monks living in community. Right away, if I were you, my eyes would be rolling at the thought of one more religious guy and his "rules." Right? Wrong.

The reason I'm thinking about Benny and his rule is that recently my friend Dr. Mike Moses talked about the value of having a rule (Regula, for you Latin geeks out there) as a guide to one's spiritual growth. He explained a "rule" as a guide or a plan for your spiritual growth. He chose as a metaphor that of an arbor, which gives guidance and support to a young vine as it grows to maturity. A Regula Spiriti, or rule of the spirit, would be one that could guide me in my growth and support my spiritual life in the coming year. And Benedict supplied just such a rule for the monks in his community.

My problem is that I don't so much like rules. Any of them, I'm not choosy. I don't read instruction manuals, and I don't like people telling me I'm doing it "wrong." I'm hard headed that way, and in my children I find a mirror of what happens when one refuses to "listen." Funny, but that's exactly how the Rule of St. Benedict begins, "Listen, my children..." Just like a young vine needs guidance in its growth from the arbor, so a child needs guidance from his parents; and (reluctantly acknowledged) I need guidance from my spiritual fathers and mothers.

Fine... I'll listen. Are you willing to listen to Benedict? I discovered he's not a preacher, not a priest, but a "layman." An ordinary working stiff who was trying to help his friends find some sort of center of soul in the busyness of working. And he wasn't talking to just religious people, as he says, "To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will..." Hmmm...there's a secret there, from Benny, that the rule is first to listen, then to admit you may be going about things all the wrong way. Thousands of men and later women listend to Rule #1 from Benedict of Nursia. That's why he came to be known as "the founder of western Christian monasticism".

So... Rule #1 from Benedict today is simple.

Stop and Listen...you may be wrong.