Posts Tagged ‘St. Benedict’
Book Review: The Rule of Saint Benedict (A Contemporary Paraphrase)
Author: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557259738
By St. Benedict of Nursia / Paraphrase and Introduction by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
I am enjoying this latest translation of Benedict’s Rule from Paraclete Press and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove very, very much. As I have been working through it, I have made repeated comparisons with my dog-eared copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict edited by Timothy Fry, O.S.B. I am finding that I enjoy this fresh perspective of the Rule interpreted through the eyes and experience of Wilson-Hartgrove immensely; so much, that I have taken to reading the Rule aloud to my family as a part of our morning devotional time. There are a couple of reasons for this, not the least of which is the contemporary vernacular and application that Jonathan applies (which still remains relatively faithful to the Rule as edited by Timothy Fry—in my opinion).
One of the reasons I like reading it aloud to my family is that I feel this interpretation is more applicable to the context of their present lives. I respect and practice a form of Benedict’s Rule in my life and have now for a few years. My family has not always understood this, but respect my practices. The Rule, in its original language and even subsequent interpretation by Timothy Fry is still more amenable to a true monastic lifestyle—hard to make the jump to “everyday” societal living. The experience of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and his intentional community of Rutba House, bring monastic living and everyday society a little closer together. I sense this connection as I read through this paraphrase and I think my family, who has little connection to or affinity for the monastic life, will realize it as well.
I also appreciate the side bar commentaries interspersed throughout the book. Jonathan shares personal experience from the Rutba Community and practical interpretation of the Rule, which help to bridge some elements of the monastic life to the everyday life of community outside of the monastery.
Personally, I think this is an excellent addition to my library of resources concerning The Rule of St. Benedict. I believe it would serve well the person who is just introduced to the Rule and I believe it might help to give fresh insight to others who are in need of a perspective that extends beyond the walls of the monastery. As I have mentioned, I feel like this paraphrase is faithful to the spirit of Benedict’s Rule, at least the modern translations, and it will be an asset to most anyone who decides to listen to the ancient and timeless wisdom it shares from the Way of Jesus. Thank you Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and thank you Paraclete Press.
[21MAR2012] Lent 2012: Day 29—Reflection and Meditation
♦ Ephesians 4:13, 5:1
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, Even as we wait for you. Amen.
It is the desire and goal of our God that we be fully transformed and conformed to His image. Our old image is a poor reflection of it Creator…a failed testimony to the glory of God who created us. Therefore, He has given us disciplines, testings, trials, purging, and mentors to teach us and for us to follow.
Today is the Solemnity of St. Benedict—The following is a reading from the Rule of Benedict:
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, 12and may he bring us all together to everlasting life. RB—chapter 72
“The good zeal is not just for monks, but for all Christians… Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ.”
Praying Psalm 15
1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
2 Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
3 Those who refuse to gossip
or harm their neighbors
or speak evil of their friends.
4 Those who despise flagrant sinners,
and honor the faithful followers of the LORD,
and keep their promises even when it hurts.
5 Those who lend money without charging interest,
and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.
Such people will stand firm forever.
Check out more in the Spiritual Practices Series here.
Everyone has a “rule of life” they follow. Even if the “rule” we follow isn’t obvious to us, most every human being is a creature of habit and pattern. There are certain rituals and routines we weave into the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly fabric of our lives. Some of these rituals are deliberate while some are less so. Examples of these routines might include a regular morning wake-up to coffee and a newspaper or probably more realistically, coffee while checking email and Facebook ®. These examples and lists could be endless… watching certain T.V. shows regularly, following sports teams, hobbies, exercise habits, eating habits, social habits, and more. The point is everyone has a “Rule of Life” they follow.
A few years ago I participated in a workshop to help me develop a personal rule of life, something deliberate, thoughtfully considered, and intentional that might help me in my surrendered pursuit of becoming more like Jesus. The workshop I attended (June of 2009) was provided by Dr. Stephen Macchia who has a book coming out on this subject in the first quarter of this next year, 2012, Crafting a Rule of Life. Since crafting a personal and intentional rule for my life during that workshop, I have continued to practice this discipline faithfully and can testify that it has been one of the most beneficial of the spiritual disciplines I have participated in.
Personal Rule of Life—Beginnings
People have been using personal rules for life as long as there have been people. As I said earlier, we are creatures of habit; however, by exercising intentional and specific practices in our life we can work toward specific goals. The model I use is based on Benedictine spirituality. Benedict of Nursia is well known for a rule of life he wrote for monastic communities some fifteen hundred years ago. The beauty and the wonder of this fact is that a document and rule written so long ago is still popular, active, and practical today. Now, as it regards a personal rule, the Rule of St. Benedict isn’t transferable in whole; after all it was written for a community of monks. The principles that form the outline of Benedict’s Rule do serve as a great template for us though. The wisdom found in the Rule is based primarily around the spiritual life and the administrative flow of a monastic community. The Rule is very Christocentric (centered around the life and teaching of Jesus Christ). Forming our own personal rule around the life and teaching of Jesus helps us to focus on the pattern of practice and discipline that helps us to live the abundant life that Jesus promised to us. It is helpful also to realize the rule we establish for ourselves is not an iron-clad law, rigid and inflexible, but a covenant guide that helps us to develop the whole spiritual self in a holistic fashion encompassing all the “heart,” “soul,” “mind,” and “strength.”
But where do I start?
The first thing necessary in creating a personal rule of life is to identify the rule I already observe. This begins the practice of discernment and self-awareness by objectively observing how I spend my time during the course of a day. It can be very helpful to keep a journal of the activities and practices I keep for a few weeks. During this time of observing my own life, I can be intentional about praying and listening to God as I ask Him to show me the direction and practices He wants me to remove and the practices He wishes me to initiate. Writing down thoughts and impressions that flow through your mind will be beneficial later, so this is something you may want to consider doing if you’re serious about creating this personal rule.
If you are familiar with spiritual disciplines and have practiced them in some measure, you might be ready to proceed with construction of your rule. If your experience has been limited or non-existent with the practice of spiritual disciplines, you may want to continue with journal keeping and try some experimentation with a few of the disciplines. A great starting point for introduction to the various disciplines can be found in a few resources which follow: Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is a great introduction to the general practice of the spiritual disciplines; Jan Johnson’s Spiritual Disciplines Companion and Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook both introduce specific disciplines and the purpose (and expected outcomes) for each of them. If you’ve never practiced any of the disciplines mentioned in these particular books, this can be a great time of experimentation and discovery. The process of experimentation itself can be a rewarding discipline and wonderful time to hear from God in the process of prayer and discernment. Once more, I’ll stress that some form (journaling or otherwise) of recording your experience will be valuable to you as you set out to establish your rule.
Tell me more about this rule thing…
Following the work of preparing for crafting your rule, you’ll want to consider how you structure it. There are quite a few different and effective methods you might consider for your personal model; I have chosen the Benedictine rule to pattern my rule after. The Benedictine foundations include attention to three major pillars: stability—with the intention to remain with God through faithfulness in prayer and commitment to community; obedience—with intention to faithfully hear and respond obediently to God’s word through living the life He calls us to in the teachings of Jesus Christ; conversion—with intention to continually grow, develop, and progress as we are conformed and transformed to the image of Christ assisting in the work of bringing reconciliation to the world as we await the return of Christ.
The Benedictine model builds on these foundational pillars several practices that help to build toward the intentions (expected outcomes) of the pillars. These practices include prayer, study, work, recreation, and hospitality. The model of Benedict seems well-balanced and healthy to me, so I considered it when forming my rule. Two passages of Scripture have been extremely instrumental in my personal spiritual formation (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Mark 12:28-31) and I use them as the primary basis for developing my rule with an eye toward the Rule of Benedict for specific practices. The passages I mention teach us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength… and to love our neighbor as ourselves (attention to community).
The questions you might want to reflect upon when writing your rule might include some derivations of the following: “What practices are helping me to grow in relationship with God at a personal level?” Prayer, Bible reading and study, Solitude, and Silence might be considerations relating to loving God with all your heart when you ponder this question. Another question, “Do I treat my body as it really is the temple of God?” Getting sufficient rest, eating right, and exercise are considerations here which might correlate to loving God with all your strength. As you reflect on questions like these, ideas may come to you for practices (disciplines) that can help you to grow toward your goal of becoming transformed in the image of Christ and living as a representative of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
I made a rule; now what?
Living a Rule of Life does not mean living an unblemished life. It does mean being intentional about taking on particular practices that draw us toward a life patterned on Christ. If this is the first time you have attempted to live (knowledgably) under a rule, it may take some practice and time to become adjusted to it. Extend grace to yourself. You may need to make some changes along the way tweaking your rule as you go. Listen for God in the process; the Spirit guides us and knows us better than we know ourselves. Prayerfully – and perhaps over an extended period of time – examine how God might be calling you to revise your current practice. You might consider several questions:
- Is my present practice “right” for me in the present, truly reflecting who I am – or is it something arrived at by accident, or as a “leftover” from another time in my life?
- Does my present practice reflect balance – among the four quadrants, and among the “prayer,” “growth,” and “service” components? Is the rhythm right for me?
- Does some element appear to be missing or underdeveloped?
- How might God be calling me to adjust my present practice – by adding one or two items, or by taking something away, or by changing frequency – in order to deepen my relationship with my Creator?
As you feel led to make a change in your practice, be sure to move into it gently. Be careful to test each change for a time, so you can determine if the new practice is a fruitful one. Remember that the object of the exercise is to deepen your relationship with God.
Make a review of how well you are practicing your Rule of Life regularly – weekly is the typical pattern Enlist the help of a trusted community of friends or a spiritual director to help you both perceive the Christ pattern in your life and understand how you are living into it. Revisit your Rule once a year (on your birthday, perhaps) to discern whether it still fits you. Revise it as needed, using the same process you used to write it.
As always, if you have additional questions or seek more resources, you can always contact me via the comments section of this blog post or you can contact me using the contact form here. Grace and blessings to you!
Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants
By Dennis Okholm — Brazos Press — ISBN: 9781587431852
Be warned; this is not one of my typical or normal book reviews. Feel free to skip the first two or three paragraphs if you desire to get to the meat of what concerns the book.
My spiritual formation journey began in earnest around five years ago. It was around that time that I was really introduced to the ancient paths and disciplines that assist us in the formation and transformation of our souls. My introduction began with some contemporary writings and teachers who “pointed” back to the early church fathers (first through third centuries) and moved forward from there. As my learning has progressed, certain points and common markers continue to rise to the top of my collective discipleship experience. One of the more prominent commonalties is monastic or communal living. There are so many misconceptions and errant stereotypes surrounding those words (monastic and communal), that I don’t want to get mired down in that discussion. Suffice it to say, you might be well served to do some investigation and self-education rather than trust the tired and mistaken beliefs. More particular and to the point of this review, one aspect of monastic living has surfaced repeatedly during the past five years of my journey; that is Benedictine Spirituality.
Almost a year and a half ago I attended the 2009 Renovare’ International Conference (see the archive for the posts) in San Antonio, TX. While at that conference I was able to participate in a break out session teaching us how to create a personal rule of life. This was based in large part on the Rule of St. Benedict. As I mentioned earlier, I had been exposed to Benedict of Nursia, but only in part. Creating my personal rule sparked more curiosity about Benedict. The creation of my rule included an exercise in learning more about the liturgical calendar, so I spent the next few months learning and preparing for Advent and then beyond for the coming Church year. Advent moved into Lent and Lent moved to Pentecost ultimately landing me into the Ordinary time of the Liturgical Year. By the time I landed, I was more curious than ever about monastic community and the disciplines thereof than I had been and decided to shift my study into that niche.
In the month of May of this year (2010) I entered into an immersion of Benedictine Spirituality. I ordered a host of books (some listed here in a past review) on the subject and a number of interactive devotional-discipline works to help me integrate The Rule into my own lifestyle. The more I read, studied, and incorporated… the more intrigued and drawn to this culture of community and Christ-like transformative instruction I became. During the last five months I’ve tried to explore and share my enthusiasm with others who are close to me and those peers within my religious tradition. Most often the responses are mixed with curiosity, confusion, misconceptions, rejection, questions, doubts, skepticism, dismissal, and a little honest interest. Mostly, this has been discouraging and disappointing to me, although it has not deterred my passion or pursuit in my learning and practice. It was my disappointment in sharing my discoveries with my peers that led me to Dennis Okholm’s book, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants.
“As a knowledgeable pastor and theologian, Dennis Okholm… offers a fresh perspective on what attracts Protestants to monasteries… This memoir, gentle in tone and often humorous, is nonetheless full of challenges to Protestant comfort zones.”–Kathleen Norris, author of The Cloister Walk (from the foreword)
Aside from the title of the book, what caught my attention was the background of the author. A little research into the summary of the book and author’s profile revealed to me that Okholm’s background had roots in Baptist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian traditions. My background, while not as educated as Okholm, is similar in experience of multiple Protestant traditions (Baptist, Pentecostal, and Methodism); I was hooked.
I am recommending this book in the highest order to my friends and anyone else that is searching for whole life transformation into the image and person of Christ… That is, what and who we are called to be; Imago Dei. My earliest memories in the church span over forty years and I have experienced much. In almost every season and chapter of my Christian journey I have fallen short of or lacked fulfillment in my growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Perhaps I am in the minority with my experience, but statistics, surveys, and an open-eyed real-world view of the contemporary Protestant church may speak otherwise… maybe I’m not in the minority with my experience. I believe a change in the way we approach discipleship as a tradition might be in order if not on the horizon. Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought along similar lines according to this quote:
“…the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This, I think, is at the heart of Monk Habits for Everyday People and Dr. Okholm begins to crunch away at the heart of the matter as early as chapter two with “Why Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants?”. The heart of Benedictine Spirituality is covered in the following seven chapters with brief overviews and conceptual explanations of The Rule for Listening, Poverty, Obedience, Humility, Hospitality, Stability, Balance. Don’t be fooled by my description of “brief overview” and assume that to mean shallow or cursory in attention to the subject. While this is a small book by comparison to some I have read on the subject, it is by no means shallow. There are deeply profound and thought-provoking words in this short work.
I have noticed in a growing number of people a hunger for something more authentic in their faith. I believe that many people do desire to be wholly transformed into the image of Christ. Many of these people have turned away from the church in their search… and this is sad. Much of our ill-informed Protestant family has little or no knowledge of the ancient paths of spiritual formation. Monk Habits serves as a wonderful gateway to the disciplines that help us to form our lives around the paths taught by Jesus.
The book includes a wonderful afterword thought which helps to shed some light on the Protestant opposition to monasticism. There is also a great suggested reading list included that completes the book.
My rating = 4 of 5 stars
Distraction or Incarnation …the choice is ours
For the majority of this month (August) I have been reading and meditating on the letter from Paul to the Galatians. As reflected in some of my other blog posts, one of the prominent thoughts I have had during this time of meditation has been the apostle’s concern for the Galatians and how easily they have been distracted from the path of Christ Jesus [Galatians 3:1]. In my opinion, we have not made much progress since the letter was written… We too are easily distracted, or “bewitched,” to borrow the word most commonly used and translated from Paul’s letter. Let me share with you a personal example…
Among other things, my new job has been weighing on me; there are several factors that contribute to this weight, but they are not really the point of this posting. What is important is that I recognize how easily I can be distracted if I allow myself to be “bewitched” by the weight of my job or any other of the myriad of things taking place in the machine works of my daily life. As I’ve paralleled this Letter to the Galatians alongside “my world” I’ve realized how quickly my love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) can be tested and jeopardized by my choice to remove my focus from the illuminated and guiding voice of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This morning while on my way to work, with all of this weighing on me, I turned to my wife and said to her; “I don’t like being distracted… I don’t like being bewitched. I don’t want to have my focus removed from the Presence of God even for a minute. I don’t want to be lured into a chase that does not lead to embodiment of the fruit of God’s Spirit.” We continued our conversation during the short ride to my job and I resolved to be a living representation of Jesus to the people I encountered… it is, after all, what we are called to be, incarnations of the Christ. I am pretty sure that some people I spoke to may not have been aware that they encountered Jesus, but I know that they did. As I prayed before entering work and as I prayed again before speaking to my first customer, and as I prayed again before interacting with my fellow trainees and peers I asked God to help me live Him. It is my most humble and heartfelt prayer:
“Dear Jesus, through Your grace and by Your Spirit, help me to allow others to encounter You through me and likewise, help me to remain focused upon Your Presence that I do not miss You living through the life of others I encounter. May Your Presence be in me and in my view through every moment of every day. Amen.”
Agitated, Distracted, and Bewitched – Part 2
I extend apologies if my words that follow sound somewhat random in my opening remarks. I don’t know if you are following along or not, but you can catch up here if you’re interested in where this is coming from… I’m still following reflections on the Letter from Paul to the Galatians.
Regardless of our understanding with issues of spiritual depression or those “dark nights of the soul,” Jesus said He would never forsake us… “Lo, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20). So then, what happens when we feel removed from, or distant from, the Presence of God? Consider emotions like anxiety, stress, anxiousness, aggravation, and agitation (to name a few). Where do these feelings come from; how do those feelings invade our being when we may have been (just moments before) experiencing sweet peace and fellowship with God’s indwelling Holy Spirit?
I realize my commentary may seem to have deviated from the original intent of the Letter to Galatians, but I think my thoughts remain true to the uber-arche that is the human and “that” is part of the narrative that is this letter. The writer, Paul, asks his listeners what has “bewitched” them… what has distracted them to the point they would leave the greatest liberating force of their lives in order to follow a paradigm that is no force at all and whose destination is sure despair, destruction, and ultimate defeat.
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. [Galatians 5:16-26]
The blessing of new creation (which is what we become) through the redeeming, reconciling, and restoring work of Jesus Christ provides believers the means and empowerment to live daily and always in the Presence of the Triune God. The formerly broken relationship between man and God is reconciled and restored… on this side of Eternity, in this present and physical world, we are permitted to walk in whole and holy relationship with the God of the universe. We are capable of and invited to experience the blessed guidance and counsel of the same Spirit of God that inhabited and empowered the risen Savior-God, Jesus Christ.
Personally, I can’t help but examine and ponder my own experience compared to the “new creation life” that I read about in the Bible (especially the New Testament). I fully believe the Bible and its entire claim to be true; otherwise I would not be striving to follow it. Therefore, I believe my experience should be more closely aligned with, and reflective of, the thoughts I share in the paradigm of the aforementioned paragraph. Is it? Is my experience fully submitted to the Spirit’s leading? Do I live in complete harmony with Jesus?
I want to answer yes, but find myself becoming distracted or “bewitched” by the smoke and mirror trickery of powers and principalities of this world. Don’t misunderstand my words; I do not believe there is demonic influence or oppression behind every distraction or trial of man. I do believe our present world is still in a fallen state and subject to that “fallenness.” However, as I have also expressed in other blog posts, I believe that we are in a state of redemption and being redeemed… meaning there is still yet to come a whole and ultimate redemption, but we are still permitted and invited into participation of redemption-reconciliation-restoration through the work of Jesus Christ today… now.
What about distractions and being “bewitched” though?
Ok. So, (1) we are permitted to live in reconciled relationship with God, (2) we are able to take control of oppressive thoughts and bring them into submission to the Lordship of Christ, (3) we are capable of living in peace, joy, and godly love, and (4) we are given the choice to follow the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit of God Almighty who indwells the heart, mind, and soul of the transformed believer. We believe, according to Jesus, the kingdom of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of God is here today and still yet to come, but we are capable of experiencing the fruit of the ultimate kingdom today… on this side of eternity. Why do we still choose to pursue distractions and allow ourselves to become “bewitched?”
Speaking out loud from my own experience and observation, I think the problem of our “bewitching” (the distractions of life that remove our focus and sight from God) is twofold. The first is our failure to truly accept the forgiveness and freedom of His grace to us. I think this stems from a continued lack of trust in the God we profess to trust. This problem goes back to the first sin of man (Adam) and we continue to suffer from it. In most cases with man and sin, we can find that pride and trust intermix to overthrow God as the Sovereign in our lives. Ultimately, since we do not trust God, we seek to find bastions of our present reality to cement our trust and place our faith (work-career, social status, participation or non-participation in certain activities, affiliations with groups and organizations, and etc) …and this, removes our focus and relationship with God to something else which ultimately deceives and fails us.
The second problem is systemic to our Greek influenced Western world. Our general approach to the essence of life is dualistic and also suffers from various forms of Gnosticism (follow the links to learn more on those terms). In very simple language, we separate our relationship and compartmentalize most facets of worshiping God and following the ways of Jesus Christ in our lives. We toss around terms like “spiritual life” and “secular world” as if this is the normal way of viewing our relationship with God… the inner life and the outer life. We have been bewitched by thinking this way. The Hebrew mind (and the teaching God gives to us) does not separate the essence of man or the life he lives. We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” There is so much more that can be said about this, but I’ll save that for another time.
A recent reading from a piece from Joan Chittister expressed much more eloquently than I could, a clear image of this duality. She writes as follows:
The private preserves of the spiritual life are far from dead, however. It is so much easier to go to daily Mass and feel good about it than it is to serve soup at a soup kitchen. It is so much more comfortable to say bedtime prayers than it is to speak peace in a warring world. It is so much more satisfying to contribute to the building of a new church than it is to advocate welfare legislation. It is so much more heroic to fast than it is to be patient with a noisy neighbor. It is so much easier to give the handshake of peace in church than it is to speak gently in the family. And yet one without the other is surely fraud if life with God in community is truly of the essence of real spiritual growth.
The messages of the Prologue (The Rule of Benedict) are clear: Life is very short. To get the most out of it, we must begin to attend to its spiritual dimensions without which life is only half lived. Holiness is in the Now but we go through life only half conscious of it, asleep or intent on being someplace other than where we are. We need to open our eyes and see things as they exist around us: what is valuable and what is not, what enriches and what does not, what is of God and what is not. It may be the neighborhood we live in rather than the neighborhood we want that will really make human beings out of us. It may be the job we have rather than the position we are selling our souls to get that will finally liberate us from ourselves. It may be what we do rather than the prayers we pray that will finally be the measure of our sanctity.
God is calling us to more than the material level of life and God is waiting to bring us to it. All we have to do is to live well with others and live totally in God. All we have to do is to learn to listen to the voice of God in life. And we have to do it heart, soul, and body. The spiritual life demands all of us. ~~Joan Chittister; The Rule of Benedict – Insights For the Ages [pp.31-32]
Why are we so easily bewitched? Why are we so quick to follow a way that is not The Way?
I caught glimpse of another parallel this weekend. Paul writes with direct reference in his letter to the Galatians concerning the old covenants (Abrahamic and Mosaic) and the new covenant of Jesus Christ. This past weekend I was in a worship gathering and heard a teaching from Hebrews 12:18-29. In this letter the writer recalls the first meeting of the Israelites with God at Sinai following the exodus from Egypt. I don’t recall the entire point of the teaching, but my mind was drawn to the similarities I noticed from my own study and reflection on this Galatians letter and this text from Hebrews. The writer is sharing his words in a very forthright manner or so it seems. There appears to be an urgency in his words for his readers to understand what he is saying… it’s as if they too have lost their way. Sinai still exists today for so many Christians who decide that living in the shadow of fear, the unknown, and an angry, unpredictable god (lower case intended) is better than living in wholly continuous fellowship with the God of Zion. The problem, in my opinion, is that many people consider “living in Zion” to be more work and more costly in personal sacrifice than the cost of living in the shadow of Sinai. Truthfully, it is…more costly to live in Zion. Zion cost Christ his life, the cost for us is nothing less than the same. The cost of Sinai is occasional sacrifice, but Sinai brings with it the covenant reward of death. The consequence of choosing Sinai over Zion is eternally catastrophic…and the ripples of that forward-reaching catastrophe reverberate with every tick of the second hand during our present-world existence. We follow our own truth and our improperly lit paths, because we have rejected the illuminated path of whole-hearted surrender that is the price of the Christ Journey.
Can we live in harmony with God; experiencing the sweetness of His Presence in every moment regardless of circumstance? The Scriptures tell us yes. If we disagree, the logical conclusion is that Scripture is a lie or we are a lie. If we follow Scripture according to our own interpretation and selection, we do not follow the God who has chosen to speak to us through His Scripture. The writer of Hebrews emphatically reminds us; “Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking.” (Hebrews 12:25)
How is God speaking to you? What is He saying…? What is your answer? Are you tired of being deceived?
Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (Or “who has cast an evil spell on you?”)[Galatians 3:1] Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits. [Galatians 4:8-9] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. [Galatians 1:6]
I continue to meditate daily on the Scripture from Galatians and seek God to teach me understanding from these passages as I go through my dailyness. One of the thoughts in an earlier post included some consideration given to the question from Paul the Apostle; “who has bewitched you?” I haven’t been able to completely shake this question and I keep returning to it, seeing so many things that “bewitch” us and mislead us…taking us away from the Presence of God during our day and wandering off on the “rabbit trails” that would bewitch us and distract us from His Glory. This morning, I read the following from Sister Joan Chittister:
Agitation drives out consciousness of God. When we’re driven by agitation, consumed by fretting, we become immersed in our own agenda and it is always exaggerated. We get caught up in things that, in the final analysis. Simply don’t count, in things that pass away, in things that are concerned with living comfortably rather than living well. We go to pieces over crying children and broken machines and the length of stop lights at intersections. We lose touch with the center of things.
At the same time, a kind of passive tranquility is not the aim of Benedictine life. The call of this spirituality is to be gentle ourselves and to bring nonviolence in our wake. It is an amazing position for a sixth-century document to take in a violent world. There is no Armageddon theology here, no call to a pitched battle between good and evil in a world that subscribed to dualism and divided life into things of the spirit and things of the flesh. Joan Chittister; The Rule of Benedict, p.24.
We can be so easily distracted… the one thing that everyone seeks, regardless of their awareness of it or not, and regardless of the visible object of their chase …is God. It is the hunger of our souls. It is amazing how easily we are distracted from seeking Him and settling for a lesser god. What is bewitching you?
Books and more books…
It has been awhile since I’ve posted any book reviews. I’ve got some catching up to do as it pertains to my actual reviewing, but my reading has been in full swing. In fact, I’ve got several reading projects going on at the moment. One of my present study interests is Benedictine Spirituality. For the past couple-three months I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and meditating on this subject. I’ve savored over several awesome books and have about another half dozen lined up to continue my studies. All of the titles I’ve read up to this point have been very, very good and I have good cause to believe the next few I have lined up will be just as good.
First up, The Rule of St. Benedict by St. Benedict – edited by Timothy Fry, this edition is the actual Rule translated in English with an excellent preface by Thomas Moore. While the rule is written with a specific purpose and audience in mind, there is ample wisdom that can be applied equally to our lives outside the monastic community. Life is, in fact, about relationships and community… St. Benedict has much to teach us on this subject. I found having an actual translation of the Rule handy for reference a very helpful resource as I was reading “about the rule” and its application to those of us living outside the monastery very, very helpful.
Two more books, both by Robert Benson, A Good Neighbor: Benedict’s Guide to Community and A Good Life: Benedict’s Guide to Everyday Joy were also exceptional reads on practical application for the “everyday Joe” Christian. Both of these books focus on living and practicing the presence of God right where you are in whatever circumstance of life you are found. The Rule is utilized as it can be paralleled with life outside of the monastery… submission, obedience, humility, subservience, meekness, and more all are applications that exist in whatever form of community we are found; whether that community is family, neighborhood, occupation, local church, etc… the rule applies in some form and some fashion. I found the books by Robert Benson delightful in their insight and pragmatic approach to this deeper walk.
Next was a very small and very short, but very down-to-earth approach to the Rule of St. Benedict. This work titled, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II. McQuiston took a very different approach to his translation and application to Benedict’s Rule making the attempt to be universal in its reach and stretching across any and all religious chasms and/or barriers. While seemingly unorthodox, I appreciated his efforts and thought much of his application and illustration very profound. I appreciated very much the quotes and sources cited in this work. I was spurred on to seek out additional titles from McQuiston’s references for my future studies. I really enjoyed this little book.
The final volume mentioned in this post is from Esther de Waal; Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict. This is a most excellent work. Once more I have to mention the excellent resource list and bibliography provided in this work. This is another small book consisting of only ten chapters. At the conclusion of each chapter are prayers and devotional thoughts to help in additional reflection upon the material presented. I have really appreciated the thoughtful presentation of the greater aspects and over-arching theme of the Rule from Esther de Waal. I have spent the most time reflecting and meditating on this particular book and to a slightly lesser degree, McQuiston’s Always We Begin Again.
I don’t want to make a single recommendation… I think the books present their greatest benefit as a sum of the whole. On their individual rights, I’m sure they are great; however, read together they are exponentially greater. I look forward to adding to this list in the coming days. You can find the next reviews by searching Benedictine Spirituality or Books.
The Jesus Way Conference – part 2
Recovering the lost content of discipleship… (Midday report)
This morning started with worship in prayer -morning prayers.
Focus: “Worship in the biblical sources and in liturgical history is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. The experience develops out of the worship, not the other way around. Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life” Eugene Peterson -The Jesus Way
“My life is listening, God’s is a speaking.” Thomas Merton -Thoughts in Solitude
We began our worship with breath prayer from Psalm 36:8 and then continued with a responsive prayer and singing of Psalm 95 along with “Come, Worship the Lord.”
This was the first time that I experienced the collective praying of the morning office with 2500 plus people. I have to say it was very powerful and moving. I have been using the Daily Office and the Book of Common Prayer as part of my individual-personal disciplines for a couple years now, but praying together like I participated in this morning with the larger community was really great. There is something supernaturally connecting with the body of Christ when we come together unified in our worship of God.
Take, O take me as I am;
Summon out what I shall be;
Set your seal upon my heart,
And live in me. [Amen]
The first general session and message today was, “Worship: Elijah and The Jesus Way.” Our speaker was Emilie Griffin. One word; “Wow.” No, make that two words; “Simply Awesome.” What an incredible privilege to hear this woman speak. Here are some of the shared thoughts on worship from Emilie Griffin:
Quoting Jesus, she shares; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Great place to start when considering worship…don’t you think? She went on to quote Eugene Peterson from The Jesus Way; “Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life.” Then she unleashed this barrage which is still rocking my heart…
- We should travel the path of Elijah with singleness of focus; embracing what God has given us.
- The hallmark trait of Elijah was his undivided heart; this is a heart of worship…undivided.
- We should be completely surrendered to HIM (Jesus-God).
- We cannot control the experience of God. We should not cling to the experience of God , but we should cling to God Himself. (She brought to our memory the Transfiguration and the disciples’ desire to build shelters to mark the experience. She also highlighted remembrance and reclaiming are very different in their definition)
- We cannot package God, but we can depend on Him for everything.
- Elijah constantly accepted what was given him by God…(solitude, silence, submission, surrender, guidance, and transforming grace)
- If we do not have desert spaces in our lives, we would do good to make desert spaces for ourselves. We need the desolate spaces of solitude to hear the still, small voice.
- We should be able to embrace the hardships that come to us…as God gives them to us or allows them to come to us. Deliverance is always imminent.
This is just a thumbnail of what was our morning. Wow! Thank you Lord for inviting me here.
I am just returning from my first individual workshop of the day (my second will be in about a half hour from now. I don’t have a lot of time to share about this, but it was “Creating a Personal Rule of Life: Lessons from St. Benedict.” I am VERY glad I chose this session and attended it. I will be spending much time with my notes, following up with the presenter (Stephen Macchia), and working to craft a personal Rule of Life for myself as well as the community that I serve.
I will share more this evening…until then, LIVE THE KINGDOM!