It took 58 posts and 15 months, but I finished my project of blogging through the Rule of St. Benedict. Here at the finish line I’m thinking not just about each chapter but about the whole thing. This all started with planning for my sabbatical which happened during the summer of 2014. As I was choosing a focus for my sabbatical time, I often thought of how a monk said of the Rule, “We’ve been living by this for 1500 years. Something must be working.” During my sabbatical I visited monasteries and even went to Benedict’s monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy. This continued blog project was a way of continuing the learning that started on my sabbatical.
So, what did I learn?
It’s not a matter of transferring Benedict’s instructions to a normal life. So much of what Benedict instructs applies only to a monastic setting with others living by the Rule. A family or individual really can’t say, “I’m going to live by the Rule of Benedict” without actually joining a monastery. Benedict’s instructions on their daily prayer life or the structure of authority under the Rule don’t quickly transfer to life outside the monastic enclosure.
But, what has stayed with me is Benedict’s desire to have their way of life be a teacher. We think learning happens only with the passing of information. If we want to learn something we think we need to read a book or take a class or watch an instructional video. Benedict’s focus is a different way of learning. He wants their daily living under the Rule to be a teacher.
Benedict says in the Prologue, “If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds.” Benedict isn't preaching a works righteousness path to earning God’s graces, but he’s pointing us to a way of life that pulls us closer to God. Benedict believes that the way of life he’s prescribing, with its prayer, obedience, forgiveness, and stability, will be a teacher making the monastery a “school of the Lord’s service.” For Benedict it isn’t only the learning from scripture or teachers but it’s the way of life under the Rule that teaches them. The life itself is a constant educator.
What does your way of life teach you? What are the practices and routines that inform your life and soul? Benedict shows us, even those outside the monastery, that including regular practices of hospitality, silence, prayer, and confession will grow us in spiritual maturity. A person could, learning from Benedict, decide to regularly welcome guests, take times of silence, and daily pray the Psalms knowing that doing so will teach in a way that's different from simply acquiring information. We learn from our way of life, whether we acknowledge it or not. If our way of life includes regular practices of frivolous shopping, mindless TV watching, and gossipy conversations, then what do we think we’re learning from these daily routines? Benedict shows us, even if we don’t live in a monastery, practices that teach us a better way.
So, what’s next here at NothingHarsh? I want to take some time to reflect on some of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and eventually I’d like to blog my way through another spiritual classic. Expect more to come.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict