Stability, Conversion of Life, and Obedience

Monday, July 22, 2011 — Week of Proper 10, Year One

Benedict of Nursia, Abbot of Monte Cassino, c. 540

To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 974)

Psalms 25, (morning) 9, 15 (evening)

1 Samuel 18:5-16, 27b-30

Acts 11:19-30

Mark 1:29-45

In our Gospel reading today, Mark gives us a peek at a day in the life of Jesus. It starts, in Hebrew tradition, at sundown. (It is the sundown that ends the Sabbath when Jesus has amazed the synagogue in Capernaum.) In the cool of the evening, Jesus does his work as a healer. Presumably, he retires for rest later that night. Before sunrise, he rose for prayer. When his disciples find him, Jesus is renewed and focused by his meditation. He continues his work, traveling to the nearby villages to teach and heal.

Today is the feast of St. Benedict. Benedict’s rule of life has brought focus and balance to centuries of Christians wishing to live an authentic and healthy life. Benedict’s rule structures each day as being grounded in liturgical prayer and spiritual reading, with plenty of time for rest, for work, for eating, and for building relationship. The three promises of the Benedictine rule are promises of stability, obedience and amendment of life.

In her study of the Rule of Benedict, “Living with Contradiction,” Esther de Waal summarizes these three promises this way:

For stability means that I must not run away from where my battles are being fought, that I have to stand still where the real issues have to be faced. Obedience compels me to re-enact in my own life that submission of Christ himself, even though it may lead to suffering and death, and conversatio, openness, means that I must be ready to pick myself up, and start all over again in a pattern of growth which will not end until the day of my final dying. And all the time the journey is based on that Gospel paradox of losing life and finding it. …My goal is Christ.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom expands on the notion of Stability: What is it to be stable? It seems to me that it may be described in the following terms: You will find stability at the moment when you discover that God is everywhere, that you do not need to seek Him elsewhere, that He is here, and if you do not find Him here it is useless to go and search for Him elsewhere because it is not Him that is absent from us, it is we who are absent from Him.

Balancing the promise of stability is the promise of Conversion of Life — a willingness to turn and to change on a moment’s notice when God’s call opens a new opportunity or a new ascesis. We look for the presence of God in the new place. We live with an openness to change, to the work of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and in the world. We live with commitment to our own maturity. Benedict urges us to “keep your own death before your eyes each day.” Conversion of life has something to do with Dorothy Sayers fine observation: God did not abolish the fact of evil. He transformed it. He did not stop the crucifixion. He rose from the dead.

Obedience is the humility and discipline of discernment, to listen to the call of God’s presence in the people, things and circumstances of my life. The word “obedience” is related to the Latin word oboedire, meaning “to obey, pay attention to, give ear.” Listening deeply we discern the yearning of the Spirit between the tensions of stability and conversion. My seminary professor Alan Jones offered his students this prayer that he used at the beginning of his day — a prayer of listening obedience to the movement of the Spirit.

In your hands we rest

In the cup of whose hands sailed an ark

Rudderless, without mast.

In your hands we rest

Who was to make of the aimless wandering of the Ark

A new beginning for the world.

In your hands we rest

Ready and content this day.

Stability: It is here and now, in this place with these people, that God will meet me and guide me.

Conversion: I open myself willingly to the new opportunity, ready to repent with humble confidence in God.

Obedience: Listening obediently.

In your hands we rest

Ready and content this day

[all quotes from The Rule of the Order of the Ascension]

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