Living A Benedictinesque Life
What, do I hear you ask, is a Benedictinesque life? It’s a word I use, possibly even coined, to describe living a life according to the Rule of St. Benedict without the benefit of the monastery or convent. In other words, I strive to live life as closely aligned with the RB as I possibly can from my own home, which I regard as a cell. The hermitage is within my heart.
Why should we pay any attention to you, do I hear you ask? No reason, really. Others have written about this. Esther de Waal and Norvene Vest come to mind immediately. There are many others. All I have to offer is my own story, my own experience, which you may read or ignore. A growing restlessness within me to say something about my thirty-four-year experiment as a Benedictine is my impetus to write.
I first met the Rule of St. Benedict in a class in a very Protestant seminary. I enrolled in it because it was literally ten minutes from my home in Ipswich, MA. My Episcopal parish priest, Fr. Mark Dyer, accepted a position as an adjunct professor and taught two classes: Spiritual Experience of the Early Church and Spiritual Experience of the Medieval Church. Most people at my seminary would not have believed (probably still true!) that anyone had a spiritual experience after Augustine of Hippo and before Martin Luther. Mark and I, both raised Roman Catholic, knew otherwise.
We covered a lot of ground that first semester but the highlight for me was the Rule of St. Benedict. Mark had been a Benedictine monk for many years so he could teach it from the inside out. The first thing he had us do was read the RB through from beginning to end. It is a short document and didn’t take that long to read. I recommend that the gentle reader does the same. Get a feel for the entire document before dividing it up into bit and pieces. You will find it on-line in various locations. There are also very inexpensive copies out there and , while, I haven’t looked, pretty certain one could also find e-book versions. You are invited to procure a copy and set aside a couple of hours to reading it in its entirety.
When you do that, you will notice that Benedict divided the day up into four sections: work and recreation; prayer and study. By recreation, he actually means sleep but I have stretched the meaning a bit to include our more modern definition of the word. By work, he means the physical labor that keeps the monastery running efficiently, but I stretched the definition to mean my job and later after I was deemed disabled, various different kinds of service for others. By prayer.he means both corporate prayer and private prayer. Benedictine monks meet for prayer in their chapel (oratory) several times a day and were also allowed time in their cells for private prayer. By study, he means reading the Bible as well as various works of the Patristic writers.
Benedictines make three promises. That’s how I’ve always heard them described but recently writers have started to refer to Benedictine vows. Some people are greatly exercised over the shift, but, honestly, can you tell me the difference between a promise and a vow?
The three promises are stability; conversion of life; obedience. In strict Benedictine terms, stability refers to entering a monastery and committing to staying in that monastery with no wandering around from monastery to monastery thinking the grass is greener somewhere else as if one were a spiritual tourist, dipping one’s toes here and here and never committing to one thing. Since I am not in a monastery, I have interpreted stability to mean committing to one denomination, one parish, one prayerbook. By conversion of life, Benedict means doing the hard work of following the Gospel, living the Gospel, being changed by the Gospel and the mode of life in the monastery. Since I am not in a monastery, I understand it to mean that I must decrease so that Christ can increase within me. By obedience, Benedict means that monks are obedient to the Abbot/Abbess and mutually obedient to each other. I interpret this to mean obedience to God. I take what my priest, bishop, and spiritual director say very seriously in order to develop my understanding of obedience and conversion of life and that to which God chooses to call me.
Benedictines in the monasteries and convents of the world read a portion of the RB every day and most versions of it in print today are divided into daily readings.
My proposal or the remainder of this piece is to read, meditate, reflect on the daily portion and include any snippets of my own life that demonstrate how I have incorporated the Rule of St. Benedict into my own life.