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."