People of God at St. Stephen,

Sara, my wife, graduated from the College of St. Benedict.  So seeing the books assigned for the prayer class I took, she said, “All these Jesuits!  Where are the Benedictines?”  You might say she assigned me some supplemental reading.

Saint Benedict was born in what we call Italy around 480 C.E.  He wrote and practiced what became known as the Rule of St. Benedict—a beginner’s guide to the ascetic, monastic life that emerged during the two centuries before Benedict himself was born.  Those who follow his rule are called Benedictines.

Many ordinary people and congregations have found in the Rule of St. Benedict a way of life worth living, an antidote of sorts to the loneliness, anxiety, and competition of modern life.  Below is a taste of Benedictine spirituality from Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today by Joan Chittister, OSB.  I share a few bits that speak to the heart of the matter.

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The ancients tell a story of the spiritual life that may best explain this book:

A young monastic came upon an elder one day sitting among a group of praying, working, meditating people.

“I have the capacity to walk on water,” the young disciple said.  “So let’s you and I go onto that small lake over there and sit down and carry on a spiritual discussion.”

But the Teacher answered, “If what you are trying to do is to get away from all of these people, why do you not come with me and fly into the air and drift along in the quiet, open sky and talk there.”

And the young seeker replied, “I can’t do that because the power you mention is not one I possess.”

And the Teacher explained, “Just so.  Your power of remaining still on top of the water is one that is possessed by fish.  And my capacity of floating through the air can be done by any fly.  These abilities have nothing to do with real truth and, in fact, may simply become the basis of arrogance and competition, not spirituality.  If we’re going to talk about spiritual things, we really should be talking here.”

Just about every person I have ever met who was serious about spiritual things thinks the point of the story is true: daily life is the stuff of which high sanctity can be made.  But just about nobody I have ever met, however, really thinks it is easily possible.  Spirituality, we have learned somehow, is something I have to leave where I am in order to find it.  I get it in small doses, in special places and under rarefied conditions.  I hope I get enough at one time in life to carry me through all the other times.  The idea that sanctity is as much a part of the married life or the single life as it is the religious life or the clerical life is an idea dearly loved but seldom deeply believed.

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Benedictine spirituality says we just can’t be whole, we just can’t be free, we just can’t be happy, and we just can’t build the very community life we want, personal and private or global and grand, until we put the self down.  Benedictine spirituality says we cannot make ourselves our only life agenda.  Monastic spirituality softens us.  Benedictine spirituality, in other words, says we must learn to live in the midst of human struggle with quiet souls and open hearts.  For the Benedictine, life in community is the greatest human asceticism.  To live community life well is to have all the edges rubbed off, all the rough parts made smooth.  There is no need then for disciplines to practice.  Life itself is the discipline.

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It is the ancients who may best explain the process and the substance of Benedictine spirituality:

“Where shall I look for Enlightenment?” the disciple asked.

“Here,” the elder said.

“When will it happen?” the disciple wanted to know.

“It is happening right now,” the elder said.

“Then why don’t I experience it?” the disciple asked.

And the elder answered, “Because you do not look.”

“But what should I look for?” the disciple wanted to know.

And the elder smiled and answered, “Nothing.  Just look.”

“But at what?” the disciple insisted.

“Anything that your eyes alight upon,” the elder continued.

“Well, then, must I look in a special kind of way?” the disciple said.

“No,” the elder said.

“Why ever not?” the disciple persisted.

And the elder said quietly, “Because to look you must be here.  The problem is that you are mostly somewhere else.”

In each of those insights may lie the spirit of Benedictine spirituality.

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My prayer every Sunday is that we would be here and look.  For worship makes all of life holy.  It is the pattern and foretaste of what is to come wherever we are Monday through Saturday.

Pastor Clark Olson-Smith

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