People often look at me strangely when I mention I’m a Benedictine.
But me? A Benedictine? I catch furtive glances as if I might embarrass everyone by suddenly praying out loud, or pop into the nearest telephone box, spin round and emerge in a habit with the letter B stitched on my chest.
I’m not, of course, a nun living in community behind the monastery walls. I’m a Benedictine oblate: someone who has a (so-called) normal existence in the everyday world while living the essence of Benedictine spirituality and maintaining close connections to a specific Benedictine monastery.
This is all by way of saying that:
- A spiritual practice, no matter how flawed, gives life such joy, and
- Today we celebrate the life of St Benedict of Nursia, born around 15 centuries ago, whose monastic Rule and influence reshaped Europe.
One of the things I do every day is read part of the Rule of Benedict, the deceptively slender book written by St Benedict which has been the touchstone for hundreds and thousands of lives over the centuries. I love the sense of continuity this gives. I also love the startling modernity of many of its passages and its challenging concepts.
Today’s passage is Chapter 33, and it covers the prohibition against private ownership of any item by a Benedictine monastic.
… no members may presume to give, receive, or retain anything as their own, nothing at all – not a book, writing tablets or stylus – in short not a single item, especially since monastics may not have the free disposal even of their own bodies and wills.
This is a truly radical notion which goes against every individualistic, materialistic ideal of society today.
But I’ve said here before that simplicity, letting go of our ‘stuff’, is one of the most important steps we can take as we grow older.
The version of the Rule I’m currently reading has a commentary by Sr Joan Chittister, and she recounts the following story:
The Hasidim tell the story of the visitor who went to see a very famous rabbi and was shocked at the sparsity, the bareness, the emptiness of his little one-room house. “Why don’t you have any furniture?” the visitor asked. “Why don’t you?” the rabbi said. “Well, because I’m only passing through,” the visitor replied. “Well, so am I,” the rabbi answered.
That story has followed me all through the day, and has given me a feeling of such lightness and joy.
What spiritual practices or sacred pauses give you joy?