For me, a very powerful line in the reading from the past week was found in the reflection for Sept. 26, p.80:
“what is most vital to the fanning of the spiritual fire is to become aware that the God we seek is aware of us”
That’s Joan Chittister commenting on Benedict’s reminder; “let us recall that we are always seen by God in the heavens”. That could be quite a scarey thought – G-d has spies checking in on us & we need to keep such a G-d placated! But Chittister sees something very different here. Not fear. Instead a realisation that we are already in relationship with G-d. It isn’t something we need to earn – because it already exists. We cannot move outside that truth. And when we realise that, then it affects how we live.
That’s a very different understanding from the one most people were taught as children. (There are some similarities to this Calvin & Hobbes comic.) I can easily fall into this error, thinking of G-d as only external. And yet most of my actual experiences of G-d, of the divine, have been the awareness of G-d already present in my life, already present in the world, not separate, not apart…
What about you? How do you experience G-d? What compels you to act in a moral fashion? what motivates you to lead a good life? What allows you to be truly humble and yet also all that you were created to be?
Yesterday’s reflection pushed the notion of obedience further – and in particular obedience to the prioress or abbot (p. 68). Joan Chittister writes that such obedience means hearing “the voice of God in one another – in the members of the community, both young and old; in the person we married and all of whose aphorisms we know by now; in underlings and children; in old parents and boring in-laws”.
Alan wrote last week about the danger of being obedient to another human being ( you can read his comment here) -and I am inclined to agree. But when the reflection broadens it to other members of the community, then I am more comfortable with the notion.
Or am I? It is one thing to believe G-d speaks to others in the community. That’s one of the things I have come to most appreciate about St. Bede’s – the idea that all of us are each listening and responding to G-d. But I don’t know that I am willing to obey someone else’s discernment!
I know, I know – I have vowed obedience to my bishop. And I continue to believe that is a good and necessary discipline. And yet, if there was something I felt strongly about, I would first argue the point, and if he/she remained adament, then I would resign my orders rather than do something I felt was contrary to G-d’s will.
And surely that is partly the point of all the emphasis on obedience. It isn’t a moral value no matter what. It is instead an essential component to being part of a community, whether that’s the monastery or the diocese. And when we can no longer be obedient, then we move ourselves outside the community.
What do you think? Does that make sense? Is that something you can agree with – or does it still leave you uncomfortable? And is this a trait that needs to be true of all communities? Or only certain ones?
Two things are ‘sitting’ with me from the past week of readings:
1. The description of leadership (from Sunday’s reading, on p. 50):
“Benedict’s leaders are to birth souls of steel and light; they are to lead the group but not drive it; they are to live the life they lead; they are to love indiscriminately; they are to favor the good, not to favor the favorites; they are to call the community to the height and depth and breadth of the spiritual life; they are to remember and rejoice in their own weaknesses in order to deal tenderly with the weakness of others; they are to attend more to the spiritual than to the physical aspects of community life; and, finally, they are to save their own souls in the process, to be human beings themselves, to grow in life themselves.”
I like this – I think it is what I aspire to (not always succeeding!) – but I wonder, how is this different from the call to the rest of the community? St. Bede’s is particuluarly unique, I think, in that most of the members of the community are leaders in other communities, or developing into that. So I think there is a sense in which this rings particularly true for all members of our faith community. But it may also be something for all people of faith to aspire to. What do you think?
2. Late last week, we had readings on obedience (Sept. 11 among others). Those of you who know me are well aware that obedience is a struggle for me! The vow to obey my bishop was the most difficult one from my ordination, though I take it as a very serious commitment. But I wonder if my reluctance to agree that obedience is necessary or good is connected to my thought that all of us are called to be the kind of ‘leaders’ described above. Because then, surely, we are all called to discern and consult with one another. (Hmmm… my Quaker roots are showing, methinks!) Yet, it is a pragmatic reality that sometimes someone needs to take charge!! Do you struggle with obedience? Who might you be willing to obey, and why? How is it different to ‘obey’ rather than ‘taking direction’?
This week, the Rule moves into looking at the community of the faithful.
First, on Sunday there was that LONG reflection on the different kinds of people who appear in a monastic community – with all those unfamiliar terms! There are cenobites (seekers who truly join a community, including choosing to be under the authority of the rules of that community), anchorites or hermits (wise and experienced people who have lived in a community but now choose to live on their own, in soliltude), sarabaites (people who present as wise and experienced, but only follow their own advice and authority) and gyrovagues (people who move from community to community, always receiving and not participating in the life of the community for the long-haul). What do you think of those categories? If you were to think about when you have been part of communities, does this ‘fit’ your experience? Can you divide people into those categories? Are there other types of people who show up, especially in faith communities, that are not listed by Benedict?
As someone who has moved around a lot, I am cautious about Benedict’s last category – the gyrovagues. I understand his distinction between really participating and simply passing through, or just looking at what “I can get from belonging here”. Yet, sometimes we are called by G-d to move onto somewhere else – and to the community we are leaving or joining, it may appear that we are not really committed.
Are there categories that make you uncomfortable?
I have to say also that as an Anglican we don’t tend to stress the rules of community. So I wonder – what is the ‘rule’ for St. Bede’s community? Do we have one? What does it mean to belong to our faith community? Is it simply a question of turning up on Sunday? (Though that’s a fairly significant thing on campus!) Is it about participating in the coffee ‘hour’ conversations? Showing up for pot-lucks? What switches someone from simply showing up at chapel to being a member of the community?
I will add more later in the week about the leaders of the community and Benedict’s throughts on leadership – but wanted to start with this…and curious to hear people’s thoughts!
So how is the reading going thus far? I will confess I am finding it hard to fit it in with move-in day yesterday here at Renison and orientation this week ! But I will have some more thoughts about the readings as the week continues…
In the meantime, I wonder how the rest of you are finding the book? Is it what you expected? Have you come across the Rule of Benedict elsewhere?
Alan posted a comment on the previous blog entry – which is thought-provoking enough that I wanted to make sure it had a wider audience. So as a starting place for discussion..
Page 7: “We miss out on the life we are meant to have”
I find statements like this very difficult to digest. Isn’t the life that we have always the life that we are meant to have, no matter what happens? Being a devout Christian, even following the Rule of Benedict, does not make us immune to bad things happening to us. Depending on one’s perspective, you can view the same negative life event as either (a) a learning experience that was necessary in order for us to grow – ie. it was part of the life we were meant to have or (b) the result of failing to follow God’s direction for us (which all of us will do several times in our lives because we are not perfect) and therefore causing us to miss out on the life we were meant to have. How is it possible to distinguish between the two? (Alan)
p.s. Haven’t arranged to pick up your copy of the book yet? Contact Megan ASAP!!