St. Benedict, Faith, & Ordinary Folks

Epiphanies 7/18/2012

Calm amidst the storm(s). Looking at some ways we can practice faith when everything else in life runs counter to it.

Tonight we are going to look at the life of St. Benedict of Nursia, a monk who lived many centuries ago, and take a few minutes to think about how his Rule can help guide our faith in profound ways today. We’re no monks, but we are Jesus-followers, and tonight we’re going to explore some tools that might just make our spiritual lives a little more vibrant – in spite of the obstacles in our lives.

*First, let’s think about what we know about Benedict. (Examples: monk, popular Rule of St. Benedict, early Christianity, humility, obedience, silence)

St. Benedict lived from about 480-550CE. His teaching “upholds the highest ideals of Christian love and asceticism in an uncompromising yet humane spirit…his Rule for Monasteries has become the most popular and commonly used rule in the West. In this remarkable little document, Benedict describes the monastery as a ‘school for the Lord’s service’ and proceeds to outline the contours of life in a monastic community characterized by balance and simplicity…he teaches the three foundational virtues of the monk: obedience, silence, and humility…[His rule] was acclaimed for its moderation,” [but also was] “unbending in its expectation that each monk would be present at all community gatherings; and his emphasis on the exercises of prayer …illustrates Benedict’s conviction that the thoughts of the monk must at all times be occupied with God.” (Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church, 65).

“Rather than extreme asceticism, what the Rule seeks is a wise ordering of the monastic life, with strict discipline, but without undue harshness.” Additionally, Benedict’s rule required stability – monks did not move or leave without being told to, and that commitment has made the institution greatly relevant in times of chaos. The Rule also had specific ways to deal with the errant monks, allowing for forgiveness and reconciliation. For, as Justo Gonzalez says, “the Rule is not written for venerable saints, such as the heroes of the desert, but for fallible human beings. This may have been the secret to its success.” (Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. I, 279).

Now, we all know that most Christians are not called to be monastics. But, that’s not to say we can’t learn from, and even use, the practices of our monastic brothers and sisters (forefathers and foremothers). Benedict called for both spiritual and physical discipline. Discipline – not a word we often react well to.

*What does discipline mean to you? Are there disciplines (mental, physical, spiritual) you already practice?

Many of us do actually practice disciplines – whether it exercise in the form of gardening or walking dogs; whether it’s night time prayers or early morning Bible studies; whether it’s keeping a weekly Sabbath (rest day). The happiest and most well-adjusted people have disciplines in their lives. And our disciplines need not be unduly harsh (you don’t have to forever give up ice cream or wine – just do it in moderation. You don’t have to run marathons – just walk and jog enough to stay healthy. You don’t have to pray every Daily Office – just make time for God every day). And who knows, once you start a discipline, you might just like it enough to expand it. As our disciplines become part of our lives, they become higher priorities – maybe higher than, say, our favorite TV drama or that extra hour of sleep.

Now, to be fair to you all – I am coming to you as a fairly undisciplined learner myself. Tonight let’s learn together. I’ve brought you a few thoughts on Benedict from a mother and blogger who loves all things Benedict. Let’s make this guy modern and outside the monastery walls. What can “the rest of us” do when we don’t cloister? This mom has some thoughts.

First, let me read you a letter she wrote to Benedict just last week, on his feast day:

Now, I want you to break into 3-4 groups. Each group will get an article about Practicing Benedict. I want you to read through it, and when you’re done reading, I want you to list 5 ways you can incorporate this Benedictine idea into your daily lives. When we come back together, we will discuss some of what we all came up with.

What did you find most intriguing about this part of the Rule and Micha’s thoughts on it? How can you apply it in your daily life?

We’ll begin with Group 1, Nothing Harsh, There’s Enough Time. 2, Silence. 3, Prayer and Rising Immediately. 4, Hospitality.

Perhaps there is enough time – when our lives are centered properly. Perhaps we can not only fit in prayer, but make prayer central to our daily lives. Too often, I hear of Christians trying to do a 5AM Bible study every day when their job keeps them up until midnight. Or I hear of people struggling to find silence in their lives while scheduling themselves to death. But I think Benedict’s right: there is enough time. There always has been. We just have to find and use discipline to realize it.

Benedict was reasonable (okay, well, at least for a monk!). We need to also be reasonable. We need to know our limits, prioritize sleep, not overdo the scheduling, and make God and relationships the priorities in our life. We are not defined by what or how much we do. We are who we are because God loves us so much and puts such priority on God’s children.

There’s no need for undue harshness, but there is a need for discipline. I pray we take tools, like those Benedict provides for us, and begin to re-order our lives around what should already be central: God’s love for us and our response to it.

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