Today is the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, one of my two favorite saints. I am drawn to Benedictine spirituality because it is so darn ordinary. It has more to do with establishing holy practices (the liturgy of the hours, lectio divina) in one’s life than embarking on a rigorous spiritual journey or scaling great mystical heights. You don’t have to be a great spiritual athlete for Benedictine practice to shape your life.
The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris is my favorite exploration of Benedictine spirituality.
Several parishes in our diocese have Benedictine study groups. We wrote about them in the Window in September, 2004. Click below to see the article.
By Luella Nash LeVee
When Benedict of Nursia established his Rule in 6th Century Italy, it brought order to the monasteries. In the ensuing 1,500 years, its principals have become a solid basis for harmony and balance in the lives of lay people and monks alike.
In the Diocese of Washington, as in many parts of the world, believers are studying the 73 chapters of the Rule of St. Benedict and following its directives in their daily lives. Why does the Rule appeal to people in the 21st Century?
“The Rule contains the heart of what it means to be a Christian and… is full of helpful reminders – to quiet down, to listen, to value the present, to be open to change, to seek balance and harmony in your life, and many more,” says Elizabeth H. Swenson, executive director of the Friends of St. Benedict at St. David’s parish. “One thing I really cherish is the community that has developed around this organization – what many refer to as our invisible monastic community.”
This year, the Friends are sponsoring six Benedictine Experiences – introductory conferences -in the United States and a pilgrimage from Canterbury to the Benedictine monasteries of continental Europe. Their goal is to advance an understanding of the Benedictine roots of the Anglican faith and to help people incorporate its insights and values into their daily lives.
The Rev. Craig E. Eder, of St. Columba’s, is the chairman of the Friends of St. Benedict. He traces his enthusiasm back 20 years to a Benedictine Experience he attended at Canterbury that he describes as “life-changing.” When he returned to the U.S., he joined a group studying the Rule at St. Columba’s and still meets with them twice a month. He also leads one of two Friends’ study groups.
“The fellowship and friendship of those studying the Rule is what means the most to me,” he explains. “In our own deeply troubled times, Benedictines are still being called to a total life commitment to the Christian way and to share their light with a world of darkness.”
He gives an example of how he has applied the Rule to his own life: “My wife Edith grew tired of cooking and asked me to take over. But before I started, I read Chapter 48 of the Rule – all about work – and discovered the divinity of cooking. Benedict gives an outline for a day of mixed study, prayer and work. I found his recipe for doing work in an atmosphere of prayer and applied it to making bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.
They were perfect! And I knew what Benedict was talking about – trying to get all life balanced into a beautiful harmony.”
The Rev. Barbara D. Henry, recently retired curator of rare books and special collections at Catholic University, leadsanother group of Friends. “I call the Benedictine Rule ‘everyday life as spiritual practice,’ ” she says. “We can live this way by changing our attitude toward everything we do. Our spiritual life and our ordinary life are not two separate areas.
“My own spiritual life has been affected most deeply from my experience with the Benedictine Way by simply trying to live in this way, always remembering the opening word of the Rule, ‘Listen!’ which I interpret as saying ‘Pay attention. Be aware of God’s presence in all activities and in all people.'”
Tim Carrington, vice chairman of the Friends, says he finds chapter 66 of the Rule one of the most inspiring. It tells the story of a porter at the door of a monastery, who is directed to lovingly greet anyone who comes. Another favorite chapter, 53, further comments on the hospitality of the Spirit, advising us to greet every person as if they were Christ, Carrington says.
“I find that helpful to remember when I am greeting strangers in Africa as part of my work with the World Bank,” he says.
At St. James’, Potomac, a Benedictine study group meets each month. Two enthusiastic members of this cell are Ann Finch and Krista Koziol.
“In the world, particularly inside the Beltway, we want to see quick results,” Koziol says.
“Studying the Rule slows us down and makes us aware of the sacred and the need to stay balanced, stay centered. It is helpful to keep in mind one of the basic tenets of St. Benedict, that work is prayer and that everything we do has value if we offer it to God.”
“Benedict reminds me that I am, first and foremost, a creature designed to praise God,”
Finch says. “That provides the gravity I need to center me. Christ taught us the same thing, saying that we need to focus on this day, to be ever mindful of God, to do the work at hand with love, and to practice faith in all things. Benedict gives me specific guidance on how to do that.”