Monday, December 10, 2007

Reading for Dec 10, 2007

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

April 10, August 10, December 10
Chapter 57: On the Artisans of the Monastery

If there are artisans in the monastery,
let them practice their crafts with all humility,
provided the Abbot has given permission.
But if any one of them becomes conceited
over his skill in his craft,
because he seems to be conferring a benefit on the monastery,
let him be taken from his craft
and no longer exercise it unless,
after he has humbled himself,
the Abbot again gives him permission.

If any of the work of the craftsmen is to be sold,
those responsible for the sale
must not dare to practice any fraud.
Let them always remember Ananias and Saphira,
who incurred bodily death (Acts 5:1-11),
lest they and all who perpetrate fraud
in monastery affairs
suffer spiritual death.
And in the prices let not the sin of avarice creep in,
but let the goods always be sold a little cheaper
than they can be sold by people in the world,
"that in all things God may be glorified" (1 Peter 4:11).

Some Thoughts:

Please correct me if I am wrong, but it appears to me in this chapter that Benedict stresses both a spiritual and a material poverty.

Spiritual in that an artist's gift is for God and the community and is no more of a contribution than the exercise of any one else's gift. When it comes to the service of the Body of Christ, it is all quite egalitarian: we each give what we have and take only what we need.

Material poverty seems to be the theme of the second stanza, if that's what it's called. Wouldn't I just love to read this out loud in the boardrooms of USA corporations!! "Let the goods always be sold a little cheaper". What a concept!! I had discussions with my team of Christmas Arts people over the pricing of our wares. We had several hand knit hand felted purses that came about because I had been given a huge amount of wool and other feltable yarns and i wanted to empty my home of them. Felting uses a lot of yarn so I felt (ha ha ) that this would be a great way of accomplishing 2 important goals: getting it our of my hiome and serving God. Not necessarily listed in order of priority. When it came to pricing, I wanted to go low. The yarn had been donated and so there was no cost to us except labor and one doesn't recoup that anyway. Next year, I shall quote the RB!!

This also speaks to me about the discussion of those Christmas ads: fraud; deceit, avarice... I could go on...

Insight for the Ages: A Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

There are three major points made in the chapter on the artists of the monastery: first, that there may be artists in a monastery; second, that they must themselves be humble about it; and third, that an art is not to be practiced for the sake of money. All three points have a great deal to do with the way we look at religious dedication, personal development and contemporary society in the development of spiritual life today.

The points made in the Rule are relatively plain: The development of the spiritual life does not depend on the suppression of beauty or the destruction of the self. The gifts we have been given are for the doing of them, not the denial of them. We do not smother great gifts in the name of great spirituality. The painter, the writer, the musician, the inventor, the scholar, all have to figure out how to put their gifts at the disposal of their spiritual life, not how to build a spiritual life at the expense of the gift.

The unusually gifted person or the person with the unusual gift, however, is also required to see that their giftedness does not get in the way of their striving for sanctity. No gift is given to tyrannize the community. On the contrary, we are expected to learn to take our gifts in stride, to practice them because they deserve to be practiced and because the community can profit from them. Aristotle wrote: "The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." Any great gift is a revelation of the more in life, a natural expression of the spiritual, a necessary expression of the sacred. To stamp out the artist in the name of religious rigor is to stamp out the spiritual eye itself and that kind of blindness plunges any group, any family, any person into darkness indeed. Without the artist to show us what we ourselves do not see of the beauty of the world around us, we lose sight of the beauty of God as well. Benedictine spirituality never substitutes conformity in discipline for fullness of expression in life. The function of the artist in the monastery--and in the life of us all--is to make the transcendent visible; to touch the soul in ways that match the soul; to enshrine beauty so that we may learn to see it; and to make where we live places of wonder.

A monastery without an artist could be a poor place spiritually indeed.

Of all the paragraphs in the Rule that are contrary to the cultural climate in which we live, this is one of the clearest. "Money often costs too much," Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote and Benedictine spirituality would surely agree. Not just dishonesty but even the standards of the marketplace are un-Benedictine according to this chapter. Benedictine spirituality develops goods so that people can have them, not in order to make them available only to the highest bidder or to make excessive profits. Money gained in that fashion costs us compassion and community and our role as co-creators of the reign of God. It hollows out our souls and leave us impoverished of character and deprived of the bounty of largesse. It is Benedictine to develop our gifts and distribute their fruits as widely and broadly as possible so that justice, but not profit, is the principle that impels us.

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