Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Becoming a Disciple 1


Some old men said, "If you see a young man climbing up to the heavens by his own will, catch him by the foot and throw him down to the earth; it is not good for him."

Some thoughts:

My first reaction is to laugh. My second is to say huh? And my third is what on earth do they mean? After all, don't we choose to love and serve God? But then I thought something else. I think they mean something more than mere choice. I think maybe they mean it quite literally, where self-will is the only tool. Not submission of one's will to the Lord, but doing it out of pride, ego and self-reliance.

Of course, I could be wrong. What do you think?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 30,2009

January 30, May 31, September 30

Chapter 7: On Humility

The second degree of humility
is that a person love not his own will
nor take pleasure in satisfying his desires,
but model his actions on the saying of the Lord,
"I have come not to do My own will,
but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).
It is written also,
"Self-will has its punishment,
but constraint wins a crown."

Some thoughts

It stands to reason, does it not, that if the 1st degree of humility is obedience/love of the Lord that the next step would be to walk the talk. I like to concentrate on the idea that in a relationship of love, one's deepest desire is to please the beloved.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Obedience 4

They said that abba Sylvanus had a disciple in Scetis, named Mark, who possessed in great measure the virtue of obedience. He was a copyist of old manuscripts, and the old man loved him for his obedience. He had eleven other disciples who were aggrieved that he loved Mark more than them.

When the old men nearby heard that he loved Mark above the others, they took it ill. One day they visited him and abba Sylvanus took the visitors with him and, going out of his cell, began to knock on the door of each of his disciples, saying, "Brother, come out, I have work for you." And none came. The visiting old men said, "Where are the other brothers?", and went Sylvanus into Mark's cell and found the book in which he had been writing and he was making the letter O; and when he heard the old man's voice, he had not finished the line of the O. And the old men said, "Truly, abba, we also love the one whom you love; for God loves him, too."

A preliminary note: This story only makes sense when we stop to realize that Mark was writing in Greek. There are 2 letters for "o" in that language. Omnicrom is used for the sound we call a short O and is written as we write the letter O today in English. The letter used to designate what we call the long sound of the letter O is the Greek letter Omega. It resembles our modern w but instead of the sharp V points, in Greek it is more rounded and in making that shape is what is meant when it says Mark did not finish the line of the O.

Some thoughts:

Back in the day, I gave a lecture at my parish church on the Desert Christians and I used this story to illustrate a point about obedience. One of the attendees was a fellow student at the local seminary and he was incensed over this story. He had been in a cult where this sort of obedience was the norm and therefore the Desert Christians had nothing to teach him ever.

I'll not deny that there was extremism out there among the Desert Christians. I'll not deny that extremism is alive and well today. but it is my own personal choice to take the middle way, looking for what is good and right, noble and worthy and leave the rest aside.

For me, the power of this anecdote is that is a paradigm of how I wish to obey God. it is my prayer that I will learn to respond instantly to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 28 and 29, 2009

Jan. 27 - May 28 - Sept. 27
Let a man consider
that God is always looking at him from heaven,
that his actions are everywhere visible to the divine eyes
and are constantly being reported to God by the Angels.
This is what the Prophet shows us
when he represents God as ever present within our thoughts,
in the words "Searcher of minds and hearts is God" (Ps. 7:10)
and again in the words "The Lord knows the thoughts of men" (Ps. 93[94]:11).
Again he says,
"You have read my thoughts from afar" (Ps. 13[14]9:3)
and "The thoughts of people will confess to You" (Ps. 75[76]:11).

In order that he may be careful
about his wrongful thoughts, therefore,
let the faithful brother say constantly in his heart,
"Then shall I be spotless before Him,
if I have kept myself from my iniquity" (Ps. 17[18]:24).

Jan. 28 - May 29 - Sept. 28
As for self-will,
we are forbidden to do our own will
by the Scripture, which says to us,
"Turn away from your own will" (Eccles. 18:30),
and likewise by the prayer in which we ask God
that His will be done in us.
And rightly are we taught not to do our own will
when we take heed to the warning of Scripture:
"There are ways which seem right,
but the ends of them plunge into the depths of hell" (Prov. 16:25);
and also when we tremble at what is said of the careless:
"They are corrupt and have become abominable in their will."

And as for the desires of the flesh,
let us believe with the Prophet that God is ever present to us,
when he says to the Lord,
"Every desire of mine is before You" (Ps. 37[38]:10).

Some thoughts

In this section we are still contemplating the first degree of humility: obedience/love of God.

How many times a day do we remember that God sees our every thought, word and deed? Things done and left undone? That He is our constant and devoted companion? I have to admit, my every waking thought is not spent thinking of God. If all I did was sit around in a comfy chair thinking of God, I wouldn't get done the things He has set before. As with any relationship founded on love, we can't keep our thoughts on our beloved 100% of the time. But our hearts are with the beloved, are they not? This love under grids all we do, say and think, doesn't it. And don't all who truly love have some version of "Then shall I be spotless before Him, if I have kept myself from my iniquity" running through our minds as we go about the day?

As for this business of being "forbidden to do our own will by the Scripture"... Forbidden? This is the 21st century and I live in the USA. Forbidden? Such a strong word, is it not? Part of me immediately wants to reject this bit. I live in a democracy, after all. But this word is used in the RB and just as with the nastier bits in the Bible, it's there, so I have to deal with it.

I daresay the concept of "forbidden" did not sound as strange to 6th centuries years as it does to ours in 2009. It's a word that goes along with the hierarchical structure of emperors and empresses, kings and queens, lords and ladies. It's a concept that has a place in a kingdom with a ruling class and those who are ruled. That is not our world any longer.

The other thing that strikes me is this and please correct me if I am wrong. It doesn't seem to me that Scripture is considered by most people to be an absolute authority. We now have source criticism, text criticism, contextual and cultural criticism. Seems to me that as a result of all these criticisms most of us feel we can pick and choose which parts of the Bible are those we pay attention to and we can choose to ignore the rest.

My take, as you can imagine, is slightly different. Yes, by all means, let us be informed by these approaches. Let them enrich our understanding. At the same time though, I consider the Bible to be the answer to the Great Questions about life, the universe and...well, everything. Once I have been informed by these various disciplines my next step must then be to ask this question: what is the Bible saying to me.

I believe there was a context in history, culture and society for all the bits in the Bible. All of those bits are there because they served a purpose within their own place in the space/time continuum. But that is not the only purpose because they also serve to inform us. If we chose to allow Scripture to do so.

So while "forbidden" may be a word from a world view which is no longer ours, surely we can look at this word, see it for what it is and ask ourselves can we choose to subject our will out of preference for His?


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 26,2009

January 25, May 26, September 25

Chapter 7: On Humility

Holy Scripture, brethren, cries out to us, saying,
"Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled,
and he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11).
In saying this it shows us
that all exaltation is a kind of pride,
against which the Prophet proves himself to be on guard
when he says,
"Lord, my heart is not exalted,
nor are mine eyes lifted up;
neither have I walked in great matters,
nor in wonders above me."
But how has he acted?
"Rather have I been of humble mind
than exalting myself;
as a weaned child on its mother's breast,
so You solace my soul" (Ps. 130[131]:2).

Hence, brethren,
if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility
and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation
to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life,
we must
by our ascending actions
erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream,
on which Angels appeared to him descending and ascending.
By that descent and ascent
we must surely understand nothing else than this,
that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility.
And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world,
which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled.
For we call our body and soul the sides of the ladder,
and into these sides our divine vocation has inserted
the different steps of humility and discipline we must climb.

Some thoughts:

Well, here it is. The very beginning of the longest and most detailed treatment of any subject in the RB. Without humility, none of the rest of it matters. We could be most punctiliously correct in prayer times, good works, obedience, serving in our churches. If, however, we have pride in our hearts, no matter how secret, then we have failed.

Benedict uses the imagery of the ladder. It is a common metaphor of Christian writers. St. John Climacus wrote the Ladder of Divine Ascent. I've seen the icon called the Ladder of Divine Ascent. St Therese of Lisieux used a ladder in her Little Way. It's a great metaphor. We climb up, climb down, fall off, ladder collapses, we reach the top.

Mostly though climbing a ladder is work. Especially if we attempt to climb it carrying burdens of any sort. The things is about climbing a ladder... we do it ourselves. No one can climb a ladder for us. We chose whether we go up or down and when we do it. It's up to us.


Saying of the Desert Christians: Obedience 3


Abba Mios of Belos said, "Obedience responds to obedience. When someone obeys God, then God obeys his request."

Here's a mind blower. God obeying one of us mere human mortals, fraught with sin and other dysfunctional baggage we've lugged around since forever?

And then I am reminded of one of my favorites bits of the Bible. God and Abraham walking along that ridge and looking down at Sodom and Gomorrah and God announces His intention to destroy the whole place because it was so evil. Abraham argues with God about how could God possibly do that if there were various numbers of righteous people living there. I love that passage for many reasons, one of them is that it so closely resembles my own conversations with God loaded with "what ifs" and "yes buts" and "what abouts".

Now Abraham was not the most moral of men as we understood it today. I won't linger on his many sins, it's all there in Genesis. Something else Genesis makes clear is that Abraham heartily loved God. And as it happens, there was only one righteous man in all of Sodom and Gomorrah and God rescued Lot and his family. So did God obey Abraham?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 27,2009

January 26, May 27, September 26

Chapter 7: On Humility

The first degree of humility, then,
is that a person keep the fear of God before his eyes (Ps. 35[36]:2)
and beware of ever forgetting it.
Let him be ever mindful of all that God has commanded;
let his thoughts constantly recur
to the hell-fire which will burn for their sins
those who despise God,
and to the life everlasting which is prepared
for those who fear Him.
Let him keep himself at every moment from sins and vices,
whether of the mind, the tongue, the hands, the feet,
or the self-will,
and check also the desires of the flesh.

Some thoughts:

"Fear of God" is one of those expressions I just don't like. If perfect love casts out all fear and God is perfect love, well, you see where that syllogism goes. While I don't know Hebrew, assuming Ps 35 was original Hebrew, I do know a few things about Hebrew. One is that every word in Hebrew is fraught with meaning. For example "The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of the deep." The Hebrew word translated as "brooded" can also mean "hover" and "dance". Incidentally that "dance" is the inspiration for the prayer in my sig. But I digress.

So the issue for me, then, is how else could the Hebrew word translated as "fear" be translated? So I did some digging as best I could. The Hebrew word is YIR'AH and is used in the Hebrew Scriptures in a number of ways: fear, trembling, awesome, terrifying, respect, reverence and piety. The Greek word that was selected to translate the Hebrew is phobos and since that is the root of "phobia" we can all see where that would lead us. The Latin word Benedict uses is timorem which is the root for "timid" and we can see how very complicated has become this business of fearing God. As for me, I prefer where the Hebrew takes me.

What is evident to me, is that this the fear of God is a term rich in meaning. And would possibly be better translated in some other way. But that's just me. Rudolf Otto in The Idea of the Holy coined the term "numinous" to describe the sort of fear we ought to have for the Lord. But it is C S Lewis who is most helpful to me because he seems to me to have gotten much closer to the many levels of meaning of YIR'AH. In The Problem of Pain he states that fear of the Numinous is not a fear that one feels for a tiger, or even a ghost. Rather, the fear of the Numinous, as C.S. Lewis describes it, is one filled with awe, in which you "feel wonder and a certain shrinking" or "a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant of or prostration before it". It is a fear that comes forth out of love for the Lord.

In the beginning of Ch 5 on Obedience which we just read, Benedict wrote that the 1st degree of humility was obedience and here in ch 7, he said that the 1st degree of humility was fear of the Lord. Over the years I've noted the perceived discrepancy but it is only recently that I was led to look at it more closely. I see the operative word is "perceived".

Something I am deeply convinced of is that the meaning of "fear of the Lord" begins with love of Him. And how many ways are there to love Him? Sometimes my love for Him closely resembles the stuffed panda bear I've had since before I was born and is rather the worse for the wear of the decades but which i still clutch when in distress. Sometimes my love for Him is a cherished companion to whom I can turn to for everything. Sometimes my love for Him is exalted as He is the Creator, the One without whom living would have no purpose or meaning. But mostly my love of Him is a response to the mind blowing unconditional love He has offered me every single blessed nanosecond of the life He gave me.

How could one not want to please a God like that? How could one want to to do anything but that which increases the love between us? There are even carrots dangling before the horses: the promise of life everlasting. How could one want to do anything but love all other people as God has Loved us?

So fear of the Lord become for me a source of hope, joy, love, life, promise. It is also very humbling to honestly face up to the fact that I let so much of myself get in the way: ego; the dysfunctional stuff that is so very familiar, for examples.

The first step of humility then, is love of God. A love that we give permission to root around in our very depths as much as necessary to recreate within us that unique reflection of the image and likeness of God in which each of us is created.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Obedience 2


The old men used to say, "If someone has faith in another and hands himself over to him in complete submission, he does not need to pay attention to God's commandments but he can entrust his whole will to his father. He will suffer no reproach from God, for God looks for nothing from beginners so much as renunciation through obedience."

Some thoughts:

Gotta be honest here. This particular saying makes me cringe a little. I knew people who went to Jonestown and in complete obedience committed suicide there. If Jonestown took place too long ago for people to remember, do you remember David Koresh's version of the Branch Davidian which ended in a gun battle between his followers, the ATF and the FBI? Then there was the Hale-Bopp Comet's influence on the Heaven's Gate Cult, right here in San Diego where I live. But like bits of the Bible that also make me cringe, it's in the Sayings and so I have to deal with it.

Blind obedience may well lead to disaster. I imagine that it was blind obedience that leads to these destructive horrible cults. Informed obedience is a different matter. I cannot begin to imagine what motivated David Koresh and Heaven's Gate. I do know, though, what motivated my friends to follow Bob Jones to Guyana. They wanted to lose their connection to the world. They would live in but not be of it. And like the Desert Christians, they went to a wilderness area where they were going to live perfect Christian live sin perfect Christian community, safe from all dabgers of this world, safe from temptation. A Christian utopia, in fact.

Informed obedience is something very different. And that I believe is what this Saying is about. First of all, this is a Saying for beginners in the desert life. Imagine what it is like to live in Scetis or Nitria in the Egyptian desert. Hot. Water and food none too plentiful, praying the Psalms day in and day out. Could you do this without a guide? I couldn't. If I were going to undertake such a life I would certainly seek out direction.

Was this trust abused? Of course it was. Those that were involved were but human, after all, so we can be sure sin reared its ugly head. Does this kind of absolute power of direction make us queasy? Of course it does. But can we get past all the ick factors and challenge ourselves with the idea that maybe we owe God this sort of obedience and how do we go about learning to give it to Him?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 22,2009

January 25, May 26, September 25

Chapter 7: On Humility

Holy Scripture, brethren, cries out to us, saying,
"Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled,
and he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11).
In saying this it shows us
that all exaltation is a kind of pride,
against which the Prophet proves himself to be on guard
when he says,
"Lord, my heart is not exalted,
nor are mine eyes lifted up;
neither have I walked in great matters,
nor in wonders above me."
But how has he acted?
"Rather have I been of humble mind
than exalting myself;
as a weaned child on its mother's breast,
so You solace my soul" (Ps. 130[131]:2).

Hence, brethren,
if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility
and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation
to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life,
we must
by our ascending actions
erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream,
on which Angels appeared to him descending and ascending.
By that descent and ascent
we must surely understand nothing else than this,
that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility.
And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world,
which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled.
For we call our body and soul the sides of the ladder,
and into these sides our divine vocation has inserted
the different steps of humility and discipline we must climb.

Some thoughts:

Well, here it is. The very beginning of the longest and most detailed treatment of any subject in the RB. Without humility, none of the rest of it matters. We could be most punctiliously correct in prayer times, good works, obedience, serving in our churches. If, however, we have pride in our hearts, no matter how secret, then we have failed.

Benedict uses the imagery of the ladder. It is a common metaphor of Christian writers. St. John Climacus wrote the Ladder of Divine Ascent. I've seen the icon called the Ladder of Divine Ascent. St Therese of Lisieux used a ladder in her Little Way. It's a great metaphor. We climb up, climb down, fall off, ladder collapses, we reach the top.

Mostly though climbing a ladder is work. Especially if we attempt to climb it carrying burdens of any sort. The things is about climbing a ladder... we do it ourselves. No one can climb a ladder for us. We chose whether we go up or down and when we do it. It's up to us.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Obedience 1

The holy Syncletia said, "I think that for those living in community obedience is a greater virtue than chastity, however perfect. Chastity carries within it the danger of pride, but obedience has within it the promise of humility."

Some thoughts

Something I've noticed throughout the collection of Sayings is the twin emphasis upon humility and obedience. Which is the virtue they consider more important, I've wondered. I came to realize that is was humility because without it obedience is impossible.

Amma Syncletia is one of only 4 Desert Mothers whose Sayings are recorded. Maybe we could mourn that more women aren't represented, but I rejoice that the 4 are included because it sure does tell us that women were there, they taught, they had disciples. But enough of that.

It's a fascinating contrast between obedience/chastity/humility. It would never have occurred to me that someone would become proud of their chastity but oh duh, slap the forehead, of course a person could. And also of course, the person that becomes proud of their chastity has embraced it for the wrong reason.

Now, I am not as comfortable as any other American with the idea of obedience. Civil Disobedience is a national ethic as it is, after all, how the USA came to be. And I am as inclined as the next guy to retort "Who are you to tell me what to do?" But I don't think this is what Amma is talking about.

The obedience to which she refers is first of all, obedience to God. The Desert Christians interpreted the Gospels in a radical way. "Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor" meant exactly that. Oh one could keep the clothes on one's back, but they interpreted this commandment literally.

I'll be honest with you... anytime the concept of obedience comes up in my life, I want to hedge my bets, talk about the "yes, buts" and the "what ifs". What it comes down to in the end is very simple: not my will but Yours.

How do we get there? The Desert Christians held that prayer, fasting, a weekly communal meal, silence, obedience and humility among other practices were the way.

I know what I have to work on in my life to make it so that my preference for God's will is not merely theoretical and intellectual but actual. I hope you can say the same of yourselves. Because that is all we have to work with: ourselves.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 25,2009

January 24, May 25, September 24

Chapter 6: On the Spirit of Silence

Let us do what the Prophet says:
"I said, 'I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue.
I have set a guard to my mouth.'
I was mute and was humbled,
and kept silence even from good things" (Ps. 38:2-3).
Here the Prophet shows
that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times
to refrain even from good speech,
so much the more ought the punishment for sin
make us avoid evil words.

Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important,
permission to speak should rarely be granted
even to perfect disciples,
even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation;
for it is written,
"In much speaking you will not escape sin" (Prov. 10:19),
and in another place,
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21).

For speaking and teaching belong to the mistress;
the disciple's part is to be silent and to listen.
And for that reason
if anything has to be asked of the Superior,
it should be asked
with all the humility and submission inspired by reverence.

But as for coarse jests and idle words
or words that move to laughter,
these we condemn everywhere with a perpetual ban,
and for such conversation
we do not permit a disciple to open her mouth.

Some Thoughts

There is a lot here to chew on. Seems to me that Benedictine leaves out his basic presupposition about the purpose of silence. It's as if it is so basic, so understood by all already that he doesn't feel the need to say it. After all, the tradition of monasticism stressed the need for silence and he continues it.But what is this basic presupposition? I believe that the purpose of silence is to hear God.

How can we reclaim silence for ourselves? What are the challenges that each of us face? Have we resistance to creating silence in our lives? Do we feel silence is an affront to our personality type?

I look forward to what you will say.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: True Peace 4


A brother asked abba Poemen, "How should I behave in my cell in the place where I am living?" He replied, "Behave as if you were a stranger, and wherever you are, do not expect your words to have an influence and you will be at peace."

To be honest, this Saying did not make much sense to me the first few times I've read it. After all, how can we possibly live in our own homes as if we were a stranger to it? Then I realized a stranger would be on her or his best behavior. A stranger would always be polite, treat everything with respect. A stranger would know that conversation would be for mutual enjoyment. And a stranger who criticizes would probably not be asked back, let alone have the criticism be embraced.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 24,2009

January 23, May 24, September 23

Chapter 5: On Obedience
But this very obedience
will be acceptable to God and pleasing to all
only if what is commanded is done
without hesitation, delay, lukewarmness, grumbling, or objection.
For the obedience given to Superiors is given to God,
since He Himself has said,
"He who hears you, hears Me" (Luke 10:16).
And the disciples should offer their obedience with a good will,
for "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7).
For if the disciple obeys with an ill will
and murmurs,
not necessarily with his lips but simply in his heart,
then even though he fulfill the command
yet his work will not be acceptable to God,
who sees that his heart is murmuring.
And, far from gaining a reward for such work as this,
he will incur the punishment due to murmurers,
unless he amend and make satisfaction.

Some thoughts

Aye, here's the rub! Our obedience must be "without hesitation, delay, lukewarmness, grumbling, or objection." This sounds odd to our post-modern ears, doesn't it? The very 1st word in the RB is "listen" which has the same root as "obey". It's hard for us to imagine a time when to listen meant one obeyed. This is hard to grasp.

There was a time when I told my then spiritual director that my goal in life was to instantly respond to the Holy Spirit with a "yes." I never became very good at that because I am so full of hesitation, delay, lukewarmness, grumbling, objections, myself. It is so familiar to live out of step with God. And the familiar, no matter how bad it may be for us, always feels safer even when we know it is bad. The unfamiliar is scary.

I've read some mawkish stuff in my time about how the darling precious soul knows her true home, how she soars in gratitude to it when we release her from the fetters of sin. Quite frankly, I've never experienced any such thing. My soul plods this earth along with my body. Especially when I berate myself for my hesitation, delay, lukewarmness, grumbling, or objection. I have not found dwelling on the negative, concentrating on what I do wrong much of a motivator for change.

When I dwell on the positive... the many things I have to be grateful about every day, the many gifts God has so freely given me, His limitless love for me, that is when I begin to have a cheerful heart.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 23,2009

January 22, May 23, September 22

Chapter 5: On Obedience

The first degree of humility is obedience without delay.
This is the virtue of those
who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ;
who, because of the holy service they have professed,
and the fear of hell,
and the glory of life everlasting,
as soon as anything has been ordered by the Superior,
receive it as a divine command
and cannot suffer any delay in executing it.
Of these the Lord says,
"As soon as he heard, he obeyed Me" (Ps. 17:45).
And again to teachers He says,
"He who hears you, hears Me" (Luke 10:16).

Such as these, therefore,
immediately leaving their own affairs
and forsaking their own will,
dropping the work they were engaged on
and leaving it unfinished,
with the ready step of obedience
follow up with their deeds the voice of him who commands.
And so as it were at the same moment
the master's command is given
and the disciple's work is completed,
the two things being speedily accomplished together
in the swiftness of the fear of God
by those who are moved
with the desire of attaining life everlasting.
That desire is their motive for choosing the narrow way,
of which the Lord says,
"Narrow is the way that leads to life" (Matt. 7:14),
so that,
not living according to their own choice
nor obeying their own desires and pleasures
but walking by another's judgment and command,
they dwell in monasteries and desire to have an Abbot over them.
Assuredly such as these are living up to that maxim of the Lord
in which He says,
"I have come not to do My own will,
but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).

Some thoughts:

Perhaps those of us in a religious community, we might substitute "Holy Spirit" for "superior" or "Abbot" and try that on for size. Then we could test drive the idea of obeying the Holy Spirit without delay. I wonder if you have the same experience as I. I often have the sense that God might be giving me some task or whatever and while I know it to be a good and holy thing, my response to the things I know I could do tends to start with " Yes, but...". "What if..." The thing I kick myself over and over for is that I know darn right well that there is nothing better for me than my Lord's will for me. But I would prefer to stay in my comfort zone of what I know well, even when it is no longer any good for me.

I think Benedict hits the trigger point, the pressure point, the place where it hurts the most when he says "The first degree of humility is obedience without delay." It's humility I lack. There is a certain arrogance, is there not, in saying to God "Yes, but..." or "What if...". It is really quite arrogant of me to think I might come up with notion that God had failed to consider. Would you agree?

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Saying of the Desert Christians: True Peace 3


Two old men had lived together for many years and they had never fought with one another. The first said to the other, "Let us also have a fight like other men." The other replied, "I do not know how to fight." The first said to him, "Look, I will put a brick between us and I will say: it is mine; and you will reply: no, it is mine; and so the fight will begin." So they put a brick between them and the first said, "No, it is mine", and the other said, "No, it is mine." And the first replied, "If it is yours, take it and go." So they gave it up without being able to find a cause for an argument.

Don't you just love the utter simplicity of this Saying? Could the principle of "letting go" be more clearly illustrated? is it possible that we too could learn this lack of attachment?

Ok, I know it was just a brick and the 2 attempted to argue just for the sake of arguing. They wondered, I daresay, if they were missing out on something. Other people fight, they know, they didn't. So in attempt to be like others they tried to fight. But it didn't work. They had learned to well how to let go and so they could not manage to argue.

What we we have to learn in order to relinquish our own attachments? What ideas stop us? Do we think such and such is mine and no one else can have it? Do we think we have a right to whatever it is we hold on to?

Maybe our answers are "yes" sometimes and need to be "yes", firmly and loudly. Yes, I am a Christian. Or yes, I believe in justice and I will not allow you to abuse another person.

But what about those attachments that we have at another's expense? What does this Saying offer us? We could apply this to so many things. Do we have more clothes than we could wear in a week or 2? Of course, so of us may live in climates where there are actual seasons, but you see my point, I trust. Or do we have some cherished belief about ourselves, people in general that is no longer serving us?

I daresay I could list examples forever. But what this Saying of the Desert Christians challenges me is to re-think why I more often want to say "no" than "yes".

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: True Peace 2

Abba Joseph asked Abba Nisteros, "What should I do about my tongue, for I cannot control it?" The old man said to him, "When you speak, do you find peace?" He replied, "No." The old man said to him, "If you do not find peace, why do you speak? Be silent, and when a conversation takes place, prefer to listen rather to talk."

I wonder how helpful Joseph found this. His question sounds like he is asking for practical advice, and instead what he received was about a change of the heart.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: True Peace 1


One of the brothers asked Abba Isidore, a priest of Scetis, "Why are the demons so terrified of you?" And the old man said, "Ever since I became a monk I have tried never to let anger rise as far as my mouth."

Some thoughts:

It's a nice for a change to read that the demons could be terrified of one of us. And here we learn that it is control of our anger that will have this result. What a concept!

Would merely repressing our anger have this effect? Feeling it seethe around inside of us but never making ti past our lips. I don't think so. What would there be to scare demons in that? Probably sounds right at home to them.

Possibly Abba Isidore meant not only that he did not speak his anger but the process of preventing it from verbal expression also required him to examine his anger. Find out what his anger was all about. What caused it? Perhaps he means that we do not always have a right to our anger. That our anger could be as much if not more to do with us and our emotional baggage than it has to do with the alleged incident which provoked it.

Well, I am sure I don't know for sure. These are only my speculations.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 19, 2009

Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works

In the first place, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength.
Then, one's neighbor as oneself.
Then not to murder.
Not to commit adultery.
Not to steal.
Not to covet.
Not to bear false witness.
To honor all (1 Peter 2:17).
And not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.
To chastise the body.
Not to become attached to pleasures.
To love fasting.
To relieve the poor.
To clothe the naked.
To visit the sick.
To bury the dead.
To help in trouble.
To console the sorrowing.
To become a stranger to the world's ways.
To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

Some thoughts:

As I prayed over today's reading, an image formed in my mind. There's Benedict at the head of the table and a bunch monks scattered around it. Benedict has just uttered the 2 Great Commandments and said something about how we demonstrate this through our good works.

One of the monks says, "Ok, boss, we're Christians, we know we are supposed to love God, love neighbor, do go yada yada. But could you please be more specific? What does that actually look like? Could you give us a clue? Help us out here."

Which gets us into that cliche, however true that love is a verb, not an emotion. Love is choice, not a feeling that comes over us.

Something I've thought for a goodly long time now is this: To be a Christian is to primarily be in a relationship of love with the Creator. I am pretty sure this is why Paul likens the relationship between Christ and the church to a marriage. IT is obvious that Paul expects love to be part of that marriage.

So when we are in a love-based relationship, presumably we wish to nurture the love so that it grows. We all know from our own experiences that every day we make choices about our relationships. We can choose to act in such a way that nurtures the love or we can choose that which diminishes the love.

It is no surprised to me that immediately after Benedict repeats the 2 Great Commandments that he launches into a list that we will be reading for 2 more days with some of the 10 Commandments. Could there be any better guideline than these to tell us what does and what does not cause love to flourish between a person and God?

I can envision Benedict getting into the spirit of things, warming to his theme, as he rattles off all kinds of things that will make love grow between a person and God, between person and person. All of which demonstrates, btw, that we prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Judging Others 4


A brother sinned and the priest ordered him to go out of the church; abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, "I, too, am a sinner."

Some thoughts:

Is there really anything I could say that would make this Saying any clearer?

Here in TEC, if any are following the rather unedifying squabbles going on, there are those who would deny the Sacraments to a certain group because they are sinners.

Excuse me? I beg your pardon? What Christian is not a sinner?

It is very human to want revenge or to see wrong doers punished. Abba Bessarion teaches us that when one sinner is punished, then so must the rest of us also, What I think the Desert Christians teach us is that each of us has quite enough to do dealing with our sin. If we are busy enough repenting and learning to do better, then where would we have the spare time to worry about someone else's sin?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 18,2009

January 17, May 18, September 17

Chapter 3: On Calling the Brethren for Counsel

In all things, therefore, let all follow the Rule as guide,
and let no one be so rash as to deviate from it.
Let no one in the monastery follow his own heart's fancy;
and let no one presume to contend with his Abbot
in an insolent way or even outside of the monastery.
But if anyone should presume to do so,
let him undergo the discipline of the Rule.
At the same time,
the Abbot himself should do all things in the fear of God
and in observance of the Rule,
knowing that beyond a doubt
he will have to render an account of all his decisions
to God, the most just Judge.

But if the business to be done in the interests of the monastery
be of lesser importance,
let him take counsel with the seniors only.
It is written,
"Do everything with counsel,
and you will not repent when you have done it" (Eccles. 32:24).

Some thoughts:

What a wonderful ideal, is it not, that all conform to the Rule in all things at all times. If only it were that easy. To be human is complicated. We are full of this and that, such and so and whatever which tug us this or that away, hither and yon and backwards and forwards.

The RB gives a model, a standard. Every day we start over. Every day we haul up our socks and keep on keeping on. Along the way we discover joy, companionship, repentance, doing better as we seek to know Christ as He knows us.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some thoughts about the doctrine of substitution

Some one on an email list started off with:

> What I do not accept is the doctrine of substitution; I do not believe
> God has a 'plan' which is going to be worked out according to details
> which he has decided ahead of time. This would turn us all into
> puppets or worse.

I believe I addressed this very issue yesterday when I wrote about we
humans think linearly while God is outside of time as we know it. So
it is not a question of God deciding ahead of time, He doesn't
experience time. It is only we humans that do.

God sees all possible outcomes, all possible futures. We are still
left with free choice. What looks like cause and effect to us looks to
God as one of a myriad of possible outcomes as a result of our
choices. This is why prayer is effective.

> Have you ever considered what would have happened if the human Jesus
> had turned away from Abba?

How could God turn away from God? I don't believe there is a divine
Jesus and a human Jesus. There is only Jesus: 100% human, 100% divine
at one and the same time. Jesus is God incarnate and that from the
moment of conception.

> So, yes, Jesus died that I might be forgiven/know forgiveness, that I
> might be 'born again'. Yes, Jesus died for me. Yes, I am joined to
> Christ through Baptism and brought into the Christian family. Yes, the
> Holy Spirit is given to us in Baptism. But none of this 'needs' a
> doctrine of substitution.

Everything you write I agree with except this. The detail in all this
that nags at me is the history of sacrifice on behalf of sin that runs
through the Hebrew Scriptures and was practiced in Jesus' very
lifetime on Earth.

I too find the whole idea of sacrifice repugnant and yet it is there
in Scripture and so it must be dealt with. One way I deal with it is
to reflect on whether there is something within me that results in
this feeling. For instance, except in moments of extreme crisis, I am
very self-sufficient and independent. Too much so, actually.

The doctrine of substitution, aside from the disgusting bloody bits,
even more offends my sense of
I-can-do-it-on-my-own-I-don't-need-you-nor-do-I-want-to-need-you. As
you can see I am somewhat Pelagian. The doctrine of substitution
challenges me on a deep level, that deepest level of my identity and
dysfunctional core beliefs about who I am and my place in the world.
I don't want to look at that. My core beliefs have been with me a
long time, I don't know who I'd be without them. But my core beliefs
are dysfunctional and don't really serve me any longer. I developed
them as a child as a way to survive, but it is so very painful to let
them go and risk walking into the unknown.

Although I can't think of any of them right off the top of my head, I
know there are other parts of the Bible that affect me as viscerally,
challenging the deepest held secrets of my life. My initial reaction
is to reject what I read in the Bible and come up with a terrific
rationalization of what it is doing there. I'm in good company. We
Christians have been doing that since forever. But I have come to see
that I was mistaken when I joined them. I've come to believe that
even what I find most heinous is there for a reason and perhaps that
reason is that it challenges us at that deepest darkest place within
us. A place that needs healing which cannot take place until the
light pierces the darkness.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 17, 2009

January 16, May 17, September 16

Chapter 3: On Calling the Brethren for Counsel

Whenever any important business has to be done
in the monastery,
let the Abbot call together the whole community
and state the matter to be acted upon.
Then, having heard the brethren's advice,
let him turn the matter over in his own mind
and do what he shall judge to be most expedient.
The reason we have said that all should be called for counsel
is that the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.

Let the brethren give their advice
with all the deference required by humility,
and not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions;
but let the decision rather depend on the Abbot's judgment,
and all submit to whatever he shall decide for their welfare.

However, just as it is proper
for the disciples to obey their master,
so also it is his function
to dispose all things with prudence and justice.

Perhaps it is time to remind Meres that if you would like commentary
on the day's portion of the RB, you will find it on this list's
website in the Files in the Folder "Commentaries". 2 of them are
complete: Sr. Joan Chittister's and Abbot Philip Lawrence. Br. Jerome
Leo's is still a work in progress.

Some thoughts

As I read this passage again this morning, I am struck by its
placement immediately after the chapter on the duties of the Abbot. I
am again reminded that I think the best way to read the Rule of St
Benedict is to read it through from beginning to end and then read it
bit by bit. After all one might choose to read Ch 2 to mean the Abbot
is a dictator. After all within approximately 500 years after
Benedict's death, we see Abbot as medieval land barons, feudal lords
with serfs. Nothing could have been farther from Benedict's thought.

We see here in Ch 3 that the monastery is to some extent
collaborative. Egalitarian. All have a voice which will be weighed
and considered. The manner in which the advice is offered and
received is as important as the opportunity to offer it. If not more
so. Something to think about in a society which often uses "You
haven't heard me" to mean if I repeat it often enough you will agree
with me.

Your thoughts, please?

Saying of the Desert Christians: Judging Others 3

Something I want to say... I make no attempt to teach in these little commentaries. I've been mulling over the Sayings for a long time and they have shaped my spiritual journey.

I also think that the Desert Christians can't help but be the role models for Episcopal Solitaries. Many centuries of monastic experience say that one must first live in the community before one is allowed to live the eremetic life. The Desert Christians were the first monastics. They did not live in religious communities, most of them and neither do we Solitaries.


A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, "Come, for everyone is waiting for you". So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, " what is this, father?" The old man said to them, "My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another." When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

Some thoughts:

This is one of my very favorite Sayings. The mercy and the compassion jerks at my heart. Abba Moses personally identifies himself with the brother who committed the fault. He illustrates that he is as much a sinner as the brother, reminding the other monks that the same is true of them.

This Saying reminds me that Jesus preferred the company of those on the fringes, those that were considered not quite good enough. This Saying reminds me that none of us are quite good enough in the eyes of each other. But it is our eyes that we are to use? Are we to learn to see each other as God sees us: redeemed, forgiven, born anew?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sayings of the Desert Christians: Judging Others 2

A brother asked abba Poemen, "If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?" The old man replied, "Whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours."

Some thoughts:

Again let me stress that the place to find a discussion of doctrine is not the Desert Christians. We are reading stuff that was written before the canon of the New Testament as we know it today existed. We are reading stuff from the oral tradition of Christianity.

Now here in the 21st century it may be hard for us to trust oral tradition. Certainly as the written world has proliferated and spun off into the Age of Information where we know longer have to remember facts because we can just google for then. What we might forget though is that in the ancient world and indeed in many cultures today, the oral tradition was a sacred and holy obligation.

I say all this because I remember what a shock it was to read Abba Poeman's words the first time. God would hide my sin? Not expose it for all the world to see?
I had to stop and realize I was reading these words through the lens of my own place in time and history. That it was necessary for me to remember that these words were said and collected well before many of the paradigms of Christian thinking existed and which I take for granted.

This is theology in its rawness and simplest of definitions. "Speaking a word about God." We are reading Wisdom literature here. ( )

I make no claim to fully understand the Sayings so the desert Christians. I can only say how much they move me. Their goal is to become as much like Christ as they can. There is a literalistic interpretation and application of Jesus' teaching which appears radical and brand new to us in our time. Even distasteful, I daresay. I suspect we see here in the Desert Christians the roots of the concept of theosis (

So what does this Saying tell me? That the sin of others is none of my business because my own sin is between God and me; that while it is human nature to judge others, The Desert Christians teach me that human nature is not something to be excused, justified or rationalized. It is something to be transformed.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 16, 2009

January 15, May 16, September 15

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Above all let her not neglect or undervalue
the welfare of the souls committed to her,
in a greater concern for fleeting, earthly, perishable things;
but let her always bear in mind
that she has undertaken the government of souls
and that she will have to give an account of them.

And if she be tempted to allege a lack of earthly means,
let her remember what is written:
"First seek the kingdom of God and His justice,
and all these things shall be given you besides" (Ps. 33:10).
And again:
"Nothing is wanting to those who fear Him."

Let her know, then,
that she who has undertaken the government of souls
must prepare herself to render an account of them.
Whatever number of sisters she knows she has under her care,
she may be sure beyond doubt that on Judgment Day
she will have to give the Lord an account of all these souls,
as well as of her own soul.

Thus the constant apprehension
about her coming examination as shepherd (Ezech. 34)
concerning the sheep entrusted to her,
and her anxiety over the account that must be given for others,
make her careful of her own record.
And while by her admonitions she is helping others to amend,
she herself is cleansed of her faults.

Some thoughts

This passage of the RB has always struck me as a catch basin where
Benedict has jotted down lots of thoughts. I am not going to comment
on all of them.

Within 50 years of Benedict's death, Pope Gregory in his _Pastoral
Care_ will write that art of guiding souls is the art that surpasses
all others. I've often hoped that meant he had read Benedict's Rule.

Some with whom I have discussed the RB have lamented that Benedict did
not detail how to guide souls. My response was that IMO the entire RB
is just that. I also think one learns to guide souls by being guided
one's self.

But most of all, spiritual direction is a spiritual gift. Not every
Christian has this gift but every Christian can benefit from it.
There are some forms of spiritual direction which we all receive:
Mass; Sacraments; sermons; books, to name just a few. Some of us
might have a formal relationship with spiritual director. But when we
get right down to the nitty gritty of living the Christian life, there
is nothing the Holy Spirit cannot use to shape us if we are willing to
see, hear, listen.

What are some forms of spiritual direction members of this list have

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 15,2009

January 14, May 15, September 14

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

The Abbess should always remember what she is
and what she is called,
and should know that to whom more is committed,
from her more is required (Luke 12:48).
Let her understand also
what a difficult and arduous task she has undertaken:
ruling souls and adapting herself to a variety of characters.
One she must coax, another scold, another persuade,
according to each one's character and understanding.
Thus she must adjust and adapt herself to all
in such a way that she may not only suffer no loss
in the flock committed to her care,
but may even rejoice in the increase of a good flock.

Some thoughts

I am reading a delightful book called _The View from the Monastery_ by
Br. Benet Tvedten of the Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota, a
Benedictine monastery. It is short only 192 pages and a breezy read.
It is full of anecdotes about life at Blue Cloud. But these anecdotes
also serve to illustrate the daily nuts and bolts of living the Rule
of St. Benedict. In the chapter, "The Abbot" he writes of Abbot
Gilbert and how this man filled the ofice to which the brothers had
elected him. How he lived out chapter 2 of the RB. I highly recommend
this book. I found it in my public library.

Saying of the Desert Christians: Judging Others 1

I propose to post a Saying every day and maybe a few thoughts about it. There is an excellent introduction to the Desert Christians at:

Abba Pastor said, "Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if you are chaste, or you will break the law like him. For He who said "do not commit fornication" said also "Do not judge

This is the 1st Saying listed on the Catholic Information Network website,

The men and women of the 3rd and 4th centuries who left the cities and towns for the wild places did so before many of the doctrinal statements we are now so familiar with were composed. As a result, their concentration was on what Jesus taught.

Something Jesus taught was "Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone." Or "judge not, lest you open the door to being judged in the same way and for the same reason yourself." OK, the last sentence is my paraphrase. Or "forgive us our trespasses *****as***** we forgive our trespassers." Emphasis mine.

We live in a world of much finger pointing, blaming and failure to take responsibility for one's own actions and issues. I am sure members of this list see examples of this everyday. I daresay that just like me, we are all often guilty of these same things. How not? These are messages drummed into our ears day and night.

The Desert Christians represent a raw interpretation of Jesus' words. They believe that Christians are supposed to do what Jesus says to do without hedging our bets or falling into ways of thinking that Jesus doesn't mean me when he says something.

Where does judging others get us? The obvious result is that we open the door to being judged ourselves. Never a pleasant experience. But more than that, it leads to thinking that we are better than others.

Maybe we even have good reason for thinking this. An example is the character Zack on the TV show "Bones". The staff of the forensics lab at the Jeffersonian, a thinly disguised Smithsonian, are a bunch of geniuses and Zack especially so. He repeatedly made comments about his intellectual gifts. But even so, he is the one who falls into criminal behavior. He thought he was better than most people and paid the price.

There are other Sayings which deal with judging others and I'll post another one tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 12,2009

January 11, May 12, September 11

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Therefore, when anyone receives the name of Abbess,
she ought to govern her disciples with a twofold teaching.
That is to say,
she should show them all that is good and holy
by her deeds even more than by her words,
expounding the Lord's commandments in words
to the intelligent among her disciples,
but demonstrating the divine precepts by her actions
for those of harder hearts and ruder minds.
And whatever she has taught her disciples
to be contrary to God's law,
let her indicate by her example that it is not to be done,
lest, while preaching to others, she herself be found reprobate (1 Cor. 9:27),
and lest God one day say to her in her sin,
"Why do you declare My statutes
and profess My covenant with your lips,
whereas you hate discipline
and have cast My words behind you" (Ps. 49:16-17)?
And again,
"You were looking at the speck in your brother's eye,
and did not see the beam in your own" (Matt. 7:3).

Some thoughts:

I am much struck this morning by the phrase "she should show them all that is good and holy by her deeds even more than by her words". This is because I am Episcopalian in the USA and there have been a huge number of words spoken in TEC for the past 6 years or so.

I've been thinking for some time that a large number of resources have been consumed by these words: time, money, effort, energy, planning, travel, writing, arguing, research. If one follows the various blogs and email lists, loving is rather far done their lists. So far down that they have to remind themselves to do it.

There have been a number of studies quoted in these discussions which state that the fastest growing religion in the USA is "no religion". The reason cited against the various expressions of Christianity is that we Christians are perceived as unloving, uncaring, homophobic, argumentative and downright nasty and mean.

Wowza! Our words are powerful. But Benedict believes our actions speak louder than our words.

What say you?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Reading from the Rule of St Benedict, May 11, 2009

January 10, May 11, September 10

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Let the Abbess always bear in mind
that at the dread Judgment of God
there will be an examination of these two matters:
her teaching and the obedience of her disciples.
And let the Abbess be sure
that any lack of profit
the master of the house may find in the sheep
will be laid to the blame of the shepherd.
On the other hand,
if the shepherd has bestowed all her pastoral diligence
on a restless, unruly flock
and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behavior,
then she will be acquitted at the Lord's Judgment
and may say to the Lord with the Prophet:
"I have not concealed Your justice within my heart;
Your truth and Your salvation I have declared" (Ps. 39:11).
"But they have despised and rejected me" (Is. 1:2; Ezech. 20:27).
And then finally let death itself, irresistible,
punish those disobedient sheep under her charge.

Some thoughts:

One may wonder at the sternness of Benedict's tone here. Let us
remember that this section is aimed only at the monastic superior.

Another point to keep in mind, that no matter how one is called to
this life, it is still hard. This is a life outside of the world.
This is not something that very much emphasized any longer from our
pulpits, at least not in the churches I've attended.

Even by Benedict's day, the emphasis on being in the world but not of
the world was diminishing. Benedict, though, is very much of one
heart and mind with those Christians of earlier centuries who took it
very seriously that although they lived in the world, their real home
was the Kingdom of Heaven. They knew themselves to be living in the
eschaton, which started the second Jesus rose from the dead.

Of course one could argue that those 1st generation Christians
expected Jesus' Second Coming in their life times. Then too centuries
of persecution also sharpened their awareness that they were not part
of this world. One could also argue that Constantine made the world a
safe place for Christians when he made Christianity the state religion
of the Roman Empire.

The thing is, Constantine's Edict was one of the propellants to the
development of the monasticism we seen in the RB. Thousands of
Christians fled the civilized places for the wilderness to avoid the
contamination which results from being of the world. It is hard to
communicate the horror with which so many regard Constantine's decree.
It seemed to blur the distinction between "in" and "of".

Many Christians of course greeted it with relief. No more
persecutions. It was safe to be a Christian. It is a very human thing
to hedge our bets. It is very human to try to make things easier on

And it is that which Benedict addresses today. By the 6th century,
the horror of persecution had diminished. Issues were not quite as
acute as they had been. Hell, though, was a very real concept to them.
Hence Benedict and the monastic superiors after him had a duty to
guide and shape the monastics who had come for that very guiding and

What does this mean to us in the 21st century? Here in the USA things
are so cushy for us we even feel we can pick and chose which doctrines
to believe, which parts of the Bible we accept, put our perceived
needs above God's will for each of us. These concepts were completely
foreign to Benedict.

Personally, I am glad that I have only heard one "fire and brimstone"
sermon in my life. I don't believe anything good comes out of scaring
people into the Kingdom of Heaven. Fear, as a motivator, doesn't work
in the long run because we become inured to fear.

In the long run, what works is this: We "become transformed by living
what we value. Not that these things in themselves do the
transforming, but they put us in a position whereby we can be
transformed by the love of God." Quoted from

The Benedictine life has been aptly described as one of falling down
and getting up, over and over. What's important is that we get up
again. And that is what Benedict is talking about in this chapter.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Stability of Heart; Stability of Habit

January 8, May 9, September 8

Chapter 1: On the Kinds of Monks

It is well known that there are four kinds of monks.
The first kind are the Cenobites:
those who live in monasteries
and serve under a rule and an Abbot.

The second kind are the Anchorites or Hermits:
those who,
no longer in the first fervor of their reformation,
but after long probation in a monastery,
having learned by the help of many brethren
how to fight against the devil,
go out well armed from the ranks of the community
to the solitary combat of the desert.
They are able now,
with no help save from God,
to fight single-handed against the vices of the flesh
and their own evil thoughts.

The third kind of monks, a detestable kind, are the Sarabaites.
These, not having been tested,
as gold in the furnace (Wis. 3:6),
by any rule or by the lessons of experience,
are as soft as lead.
In their works they still keep faith with the world,
so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God.
They live in twos or threes, or even singly,
without a shepherd,
in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord's.
Their law is the desire for self-gratification:
whatever enters their mind or appeals to them,
that they call holy;
what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.

The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues.
These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province,
staying as guests in different monasteries
for three or four days at a time.
Always on the move, with no stability,
they indulge their own wills
and succumb to the allurements of gluttony,
and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites.
Of the miserable conduct of all such
it is better to be silent than to speak.

Passing these over, therefore,
let us proceed, with God's help,
to lay down a rule for the strongest kind of monks, the Cenobites.

Some thoughts:

Stability, as we all probably know is at the very heart of the RB, along with obedience and conversion of life with humility close after. Today I found myself thinking of 2 possible understandings of Benedictine stability.

The obvious one, of stability of place, is self-evident and something we have already, I think discussed. Please correct me if I am wrong which I so often am.

The 2 definitions I think of are stability of the heart and stability as habit.

Stability of the heart: Maybe I've shared my thoughts on this in the past too. I dunno. Anyway, I don't think any aspect or possible definitions of Benedictine stability can be understood with the concept of stability of heart.

I wrote in my own personal Rule that "singleness of heart means to love one thing." As a vowed religious, my love is vowed to God as the primary relationship of live in my life. I think it is fair to say that every single Christian is also called to have God as the primary relationship of love in one's life. All Christians share the same primary vocation: God as primary relationship of love for each of us.

Any relationship of love will be affected by events, circumstances, desires, people etc. The trick for every Christian is to sort out those things which deplete and drain the love and those with enrich and nurture it. Fortunately the Bible offers us a guide about which is which. The 10 Commandments for instance. The many Biblical references about our property and money. Then there's the bit I'm known to quote ad nauseum for some: we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, slake the thirsty, care for the ill, provide for those unable to provide for themselves, preach the Good News and make disciples of all nations.

We cannot live on a spiritual high 24/7. Sometimes we just have haul up our socks and keep on keeping on with no tangible reward. This is where stability of the heart comes in. We do the right things, those with enrich and nurture the love we share with God even if we don't feel it. Stability of the heart teaches us that one day builds on another in a mysterious way, in a way our cognitive skills may not recognize to create within us an environment in which to entertain God. And we see how stability of the heart leads us to the sacred duty of hospitality for as we entertain guests, so we entertain God.

Stability of the heart requires us to say "no" a lot. We have to say no to short term or even long term pleasures and desires for no other reason than they will deplete and even damage the love relationship with God. This is also called sin. Then too there are many desirable things in this world that could nurture the love but they may not be what God means for us. To choose one of these, even though good in and of itself, if it is not God's will for us, is just the same as choosing a bad.

I know there are those who will say that God will make every thing come out right in the end, but that is an egocentric view. We are not here for God to make right what our own wills chose. We are not the ones in charge of our lives. God is. I kn ow it sounds incredibly old-fashioned to even talk of doing God's will, that each of us has our own unique vocation as the way to nurture and cherish the love each of us shares with the Lord. But old-fashioned or not, it is still true.

We all share the vocation to love the Lord, but we are not all called to manifest it in the same way. Stability of heart requires that we be faithful and careful to discern that to which God calls us.

Something that can help us with this is the idea of stability of habit. We can choose to allow certain things to become habit-forming. Habits of prayer, reading the Bible, worship, adoration of God, receiving the Eucharist, to name only the most obvious examples, as is the case with stability of heart, help us, even we don't feel it, in that same mysterious way beyond our cognitive abilities.

On a list I was once on, people spoke about how they would switch off from one breviary or prayer book to another based on their needs. I don't know about you, but my needs tend to quite often be ephemeral. Oh, there is always the need for God, food, shelter, clothing. Something we in the USA have trouble with is to distinguish between a want and a need.

Using the breviary or prayerbook example, do we want or need to swap out our books? When we make the change, why do we do so? What are we looking for?
Or how about the example of church hopping, looking for a church that will meet our needs?

The thing is, that when we hop from this to that, chop and change between one thing and another, we miss the opportunity to form the habit that will allow the Holy Spirit to change us. We think we are in charge of our spiritual formation but in truth our only responsibility in the matter is to create the environment within us whereby God can get at us.

That is what stability of habits does. We experience a continuity on the outside while the Holy Spirit delves within us doing Her work.

So what habits? Certainly regular prayers, mass, daily Scripture reading and meditation, giving of our money and our time to the church and its work and to the poor and needy.

If any here are new to the idea of daily habits, this blog has a sister list, Knitternun Meditation, which lists the daily Scripture readings, prayers, and a choice of possible meditations. It represents many flavors within Christianity as it is my belief that all Christians have much more in common than otherwise and that we should be celebrating that and cease to argue over our differences. Here is the URL:

Your comments and questions are certainly most welcome. What do you think of the concepts of stability of the heart and stability of habit?