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What Is Old Is New Again

As I enter a new phase in my life, my thoughts have been filled with the notion of community; it started with a quote in a book I was reading and led to the Rule of St. Benedict. Crumbs I knew I needed to follow. I’m not sure why, but I feel as though I am being compelled to understand it for some future use. So off I went.

Starting with a Rule written in 516 by a monk seemed a bit extreme, and perhaps even out of touch, but sometimes you just have to start the journey from where you are. And there I was.

What I learned was that the Rule of St Benedict was written in Rome in the 6th century, described by Judith Valente as a time:

“ … when a great civilization was under threat from violent outside forces. The economy favored the wealthy. Social norms were changing, and the political leaders lacked the public’s trust. Many blamed their anxiety on government, foreigners, or those of different religion or race.”

History repeating itself? Was the adage that those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it happening before my very eyes? Could the rules St. Benedict penned help lift me out of the current darkness, just as they had done in the past?

Hunkering down, I read the entire Rule of St. Benedict, in both a direct translation and what was described as a new translation for today. And I did not find a single rule.

What I found was an invitation to become my best self. I found principles on how to live a good life, a whole life, a life grounded in community, simplicity, humility, hospitality, gratitude, and praise. The rules were not something to be intellectualized and followed, they were to be lived, from the inside out. I was surprised by how clearly I could see ways to apply Benedict’s principles to my modern day, non-monastic life. I was shocked by how desperately I felt I needed them, both for my own personal and spiritual growth, and as an antidote to the chaos of my over stimulated, over-scheduled, over-worked, and fractured everyday life.

Reading the Rule, thinking about it, absorbing it, helped me see that right here, right now, to continue growing, to continue elevating my ordinary life to an extraordinary life, I need to focus on two very fundamental, yet often overlooked aspects of life—listening and time.

For me, it started with the very first sentence in the prologue:

“Listen carefully my daughter, my son, to my instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Listening with the ear of your heart.

According to Joan Chittister, O.S.B, a Benedictine Sister living the Rule:

“Benedictine listening is about seeking out wise direction. It is one thing to try to hear what is in front of us. It is another to willingly expose our ideas to the critical voice of a wiser heart. Seeking wise direction is central to personal growth.”

“Until I learn to listen, I will really have nothing whatever to say about life myself. To live without listening is not to live at all; it is simply to drift in my own backwater.”

Listening as a spiritual discipline, as an act of will; a principle we all need to actively nurture and cultivate in our everyday lives. The principle that asks us to question who are the wise ones in our lives we should be listening to? Whose words have we chosen not to hear? What messages are we missing?

Listening is a key to growth.

The second theme in the Rule that had me take pause was time. That there is, in fact, always enough time. That we need to respect time. As Chittister describes it:

“No one thing consumes a monastic’s life. No one thing is exaggerated out of proportion to the other dimensions of life. No one thing absorbs the human spirit to the exclusion of every other. Life is made up of many facets and only together do they form a whole.”

“Life flows through time, with time as its guardian. Not now.”

No one thing is exaggerated. But how often they seem in my life! When I spin out of control, I know it is because one event, one drama, one concern, one deliverable, one need, is overshadowing all others and throwing off the balance of the whole. For me, time often feels like an all-or-nothing proposition. All of it is apportioned to the need I am throwing myself into at the moment, leaving nothing to sustain the balance. Could it be that I don’t have time for all of the important things in my life because I don’t actively and consciously make time for them? How can I possibly learn from what I do not bring into my life? Is the value of time what it brings me?

Time as the guardian of life.

I found the Rule of St Benedict is forever an invitation to grow, to focus our attention on balance, simplicity, and harmony. To spend our time well. To recognize our connectedness. To listen. And to treat everything in the world as sacred.

Just what I needed to hear … the wisdom of a wise one.


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