Benedictine spirituality offers an important voice in our world today, a voice which informs our praying, living and discerning. It is one among many schools that speak to contemporary hearts, yet it is particularly unique in its lasting impact on Western Christianity.
Benedict of Nursia lived from ca. 480 to 547 CE in Italy. The Rule of St. Benedict (RB) became a foundational text for monasticism in the West, having emerged in the sixth century as the Roman civilization was collapsing. There was societal chaos and political dissatisfaction and we might wish that the conditions of those times did not sound so familiar to our modern ears. What we know about St. Benedict himself comes to us mainly through Gregory the Great (ca. 540-604 CE), who praised Benedict for his discretion and moderation.
The Rule of Saint Benedict (RB)
According to monastic scholar Fr. Columba Stewart OSB, the 73 brief chapters of the RB make up four major sections. The Prologue through RB 7 are a foundational primer; RB 8-20 speak of liturgical prayer; RB 20-67 include teachings for the common life; and RB 68-72 offer a theology of monastic life with an emphasis on love (Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition. Orbis, 20-21). RB 73, the final chapter, is more or less a bibliography for all that precedes it.
The RB is saturated with Scripture and, as Esther de Waal has suggested in her book Seeking God: The Baptismal Invitation of the Rule of St. Benedict (Liturgical Press, 2009), the Prologue exemplifies this as a model of baptismal instruction.” For example, “Let us get up then, at long last for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: It is high time for us to arise from sleep (Rom 13:11),” or “Run while you have the light, that the darkness of death may not overtake you (John 12:35).” Scripture and baptism undergird the Benedictine vision of Christian discipleship, a vision which relies on a prayerful orientation toward God and relationships which support us in Christ-centeredness. Thus prayer and community, to borrow again from Stewart, are at the heart of the Benedictine school of spirituality.
Core Values of Benedictine Spirituality
Among the many available lists of core Benedictine values, I find that of Saint John’s Abbey to be one of the most helpful. For the reader’s convenience, I will include only six of them here along with a simple explanation. As you read, pay attention to the one or two which resonate most for you today. You will likely recognize the timeless quality of the values which has caused them to endure for centuries and continue speaking to the many layers of our human experience (personal, familial, communal and societal).
Balance is less about achieving perfect equilibrium than it is a pendulum which continuously swings back toward a central point. How are we being invited to swing back toward Christ-centeredness? What does it mean for us to learn contentment with living simply? That kind of movement toward moderation is especially important as we live the open and complex questions.
Dignity of Work
We each hunger to make a meaningful contribution to our world. How have we been equipped by God to do so? It is a matter of self-respect and purpose which we see clearly in the changing nature of retirement. What do I make (or make possible) with the precious energy of my life?
The discipline of slowing down to pay attention renews our orientation toward receiving the presence of Christ. What calls us to attention? What helps us practice setting down our agendas in order to be more fully present? Stop the madness; listen to the God who loves you.
The wisdom of Native Americans has often been quoted as a way of thinking about the long term implications of our present actions: “What is the impact of our decisions on the seventh generation?” We are called to consider ourselves part of God’s larger and longer story, living a legacy which was a gift to us and inspiring others who will follow.
We are moved to profound respect for the ways the Creator puts resources at our disposal to further the kingdom of God. How do we “respect all things as vessels of the altar” (RB 31:10).
People are tired and worn out from striving against unhealthy systems. Unfortunately, Jesus never indicated discipleship would be easy. How are you being called to participate in God’s work of reconciliation, healing, and in shaping structures that support values like these.
Which value speaks to your heart most strongly at this time and why?
How are you feeling called to commit that value to practice in the days ahead?