Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reading for Dec 29, 2007

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

April 29, August 29, December 29
Chapter 71: That the Brethren Be Obedient to One Another

Not only is the boon of obedience
to be shown by all to the Abbot,
but the brethren are also to obey one another,
knowing that by this road of obedience they are going to God.
Giving priority, therefore, to the commands of the Abbot
and of the Superior appointed by him
(to which we allow no private orders to be preferred),
for the rest
let all the juniors obey their seniors
with all charity and solicitude.
But if anyone is found contentious,
let him be corrected.

And if any brother,
for however small a cause,
is corrected in any way by the Abbot or by any of his Superiors,
or if he faintly perceives
that the mind of any Superior is angered or moved against him,
however little,
let him at once, without delay,
prostrate himself on the ground at his feet
and lie there making satisfaction
until that emotion is quieted with a blessing.
But if anyone should disdain to do this,
let him undergo corporal punishment
or, if he is stubborn, let him be expelled from the monastery.

The concept of mutual obedience is such a stark contrast to our modern "who do you think you are to tell me what I should do" way of thinking, isn't it? I confess I am very mucha product of my times, as much as I hate to admit it, and when someone tells me what to do, I have a rude response, at least mentally.

I have an example... I am very sorry to say that on the day of Christmas Arts (our major fundraiser at my church for our outreach programs) I thought I'd lend a hand by putting away the janitorial style mop and bucket not realizing that it had dirty water in it. Pushed it through the room, got the the hallway and the bucket tipped over having come to grief on the metal strip where the carpeting in the hall starts and the tile floor of the parish hall ends. I am very sorry to report that I bellowed (no other word for it) a four letter scatological word beginning with 's'. Then as I tried to fix, in a much quieter voice I cursed myself out and the 'f' word predominated this monologue. Some people came and helped me and i apologized over and over and over again.

Coupla days later I received an email from someone who had not been there but whose children were. I had noticed the presence of the kids, but sad to say, I was so lost to place and occasion and so wrapped up in the horrible mess i had made on such an important day at such such a bad time, that i doubt very much it would have made a difference. The gentleman wrote to me in very judgemental terms but even so all i could do was nod my head because, expressed judgementally or not, he was right. i was with him 100%, I agreed with everything he said, no matter how unflatteringly expressed. Didn't even hurt because he was so right.

And then he lost me. He wrote that he "demanded that I never use such language in front of his children again." I fear I did not respond well to the word "demand". He had written at length about self-control, remembering where I was, my responsibility under the baptismal covenant to the children of the parish, the hypocrisy of a nun using that language and on and on. As I said, I agreed with everything he said until the "demand".

My response, I fear, was first of all apologize once again, to tell him how right he was etc. And then in a new paragraph, I quoted back to him everything he said to me about self-control, remembering where I was etc, only I framed it in terms of him and ended it with a demand that he and his girl friend, their friends and their children stop treating the Lord's ouse as if it were a party zone having such audible conversations before and during the service because it interfered with the prayers of others.

This all happened at the very beginning of the month and within 2 days, I realized how very wrong i had been to write this way, that as much as i disliked his use of the word "demand" that maybe he was right to use it. I even emailed him and said so, apologizing for my response, confessing that it was sinful of me to have written that way and asking his forgiveness. I've never heard from him again.

So I have been ruminating long and hard about my preference for a "who do you think you are" response instead of one that better reflects my vows as a nun, the RB upon which i claim to base my life and the very real mutual interdependence of all of us in the Body of Christ and my own ego and lack of humility.

Insight for the Ages: A Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

Into a democratic country and a highly individualistic culture, into a society where personalism approaches the pathological and independence is raised to high art, the rule brings a chapter on listening and wisdom. The rule says that we are not our own teachers, not our own guides, not our own standard setters, not a law unto ourselves. In addition to the "officials" in our lives--the employers, the supervisors, the lawgivers and the police--we have to learn to learn from those around us who have gone the path before us and know the way. It is a chapter dedicated to making us see the elderly anew and our colleagues with awe and our companions with new respect. In a society that depends on reputation to such a degree that people build themselves up by tearing other people down, the chapter on mutual obedience turns the world awry. Monastic spirituality says that we are to honor one another. We are to listen to one another. We are to reach across boundaries and differences in this fragmented world and see in our differences distinctions of great merit that can mend a competitive, uncaring and foolish world.
The Tao teaches:
If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.

What monastic spirituality wants among us is respect and love, not excuses, not justification, not protests of innocence or cries of misunderstandings. The rule wants respect for the elder and love for the learner. The rule wants a human response to the mystery of misunderstanding--not stand-offs, not pouting, not rejection, not eternal alienation. The rule wants relationships that have been ruptured to be repaired, not by long, legal defenses but by clear and quick gestures of human sorrow and forgiveness. The question in the rule is not who is right and who is wrong. The question in the rule is who is offended and who is sorry, who is to apologize and who is to forgive. Quickly. Immediately. Now.

The rabbi of Sassov, the Hasidic masters tell us, once gave away the last money he had in his pocket to a man of ill repute who quickly squandered it all. The rabbi's disciples threw it up to him. He answered them: "Shall I be more finicky than God, who gave it to me?" What monastic spirituality teaches in this paragraph of the Rule is that we must all relate to one another knowing our own sinfulness and depending on the love we learn from one another.

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