Wednesday, January 8, 2014

PROLOGUE (cont.)
"Therefore, having our loins girt with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk His ways under the guidance of the Gospel, that we may be found worthy of seeing Him who hath called us to His kingdom (cf 1 Thes 2:12). If we desire to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we cannot reach it in any way, unless we run thither by good works. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: "Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest in Thy holy hill" (Ps 14[15]:1)? After this question, brethren, let us listen to the Lord answering and showing us the way to this tabernacle, saying: "He that walketh without blemish and worketh justice; he that speaketh truth in his heart; who hath not used deceit in his tongue, nor hath done evil to his neighbor, nor hath taken up a reproach against his neighbor" (Ps 14[15]:2-3), who hath brought to naught the foul demon tempting him, casting him out of his heart with his temptation, and hath taken his evil thoughts whilst they were yet weak and hath dashed them against Christ (cf Ps 14[15]:4; Ps 136[137]:9); who fearing the Lord are not puffed up by their goodness of life, but holding that the actual good which is in them cannot be done by themselves, but by the Lord, they praise the Lord working in them (cf Ps 14[15]:4), saying with the Prophet: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us; by to Thy name give glory" (Ps 113[115:1]:9). Thus also the Apostle Paul hath not taken to himself any credit for his preaching, saying: "By the grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Cor 15:10). And again he saith: "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (2 Cor 10:17)."

The idea of doing all that we do to the glory of God seems to be one of the foundations not only of Benedict's rule, but of the entire Christian life.  But as we unpack what that actually might look like, I think it becomes apparent just how daunting of a commitment we each must taken on as followers of Christ.

I don't know about others, but I am certain that I fail miserably on a daily basis in my attempts to "do all things for the glory of God."  It's not that I don't try to fulfill this honorable commitment, but like St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, I find that I end up doing so many of the things I don't want to do and doing things I ought not to do.  So do those things that I do on the surface appear conflicting with giving glory to God somehow find redemption in God?  What I mean by this is that if one of the core characteristics of God is His mercy, then doesn't He receive glory even when we stumble? 

I have been reading a book on systematic theology recently and the question of whether or not the incarnation would have occurred had sin not entered the picture was raised.  Now, I am not going to claim to know the answer, but what I can say is that the incarnation presents each and everyone the opportunity to give God greater glory because His son's willingness to take on our humanity and suffer death upon the cross is what ultimately redeems us and pushes us to worship.  Would we feel the desire to worship Almighty God if not of our need for his redemptive love?  I don't know.  However, we must avoid the trap of convincing ourselves that somehow we should continue to sin "so that grace may abound."  No, the way we give God glory through our shortcomings is by trying to avoid future instances of sin.   I think this is at the heart of Martin Luther's great quote that we are to "sin, and sin boldly!" 

Obviously this is an impossible task, but the willingness and desire to pursue holiness brings God a tremendous amount of Glory I would say.  It is with this in mind that we echo the bible and Benedict in declaring "Not to us, O Lord, not to us; by to Thy name give glory."  Amen.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

PROLOGUE (cont.)
"And the Lord seeking His workman in the multitude of the people, to whom He proclaimeth these words, saith again: "Who is the man that desireth life and loveth to see good days" (Ps 33[34]:13)? If hearing this thou answerest, "I am he," God saith to thee: "If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile; turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it" (Ps 33[34]:14-15). And when you shall have done these things, my eyes shall be upon you, and my ears unto your prayers. And before you shall call upon me I will say: "Behold, I am here" (Is 58:9). What, dearest brethren, can be sweeter to us than this voice of the Lord inviting us? See, in His loving kindness, the Lord showeth us the way of life." 
Being someone that is an extreme introvert, you would think the last thing that would cause me much trouble would be my mouth.  Unfortuantely, that is not the case.  Like most of us, extrovert or introvert, my mouth probably comprises about 95% of the sins I commit.  The more I have become aware of the power (for good and evil) that resides in our speech, the more I have understood why Benedict puts such a huge emphasis on silence. The benefit is (at least) two-fold: I firmly believe that  God speaks the loudest in the silence. And the less we say, the less likely we are to say something hurtful and utterly absurd; I can't say something that causes someone pain if I am practicing the gift of quietness. 

We all have heard the old saying, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."  But sometimes navigating the tricky waters of "niceness" is more difficult that keeping quiet, isn't it.  I think we can all agree that sometimes the truth isn't always nice. However, we are told in scripture that we are to speak the truth in love.  I think this is what is the core of what Benedict desires for his monks.  Most important for the believing community is the ability to discern what must be shared with one another and what needs to be left unsaid.  This can be seen in confronting one another when we notice a brother or sister struggling with some sin in their life. It might be keeping our mouth shut even though we know that someone we care for very much is embarking on a path that might be hurting them but we know they are not ready to listen. 

The Medieval mystics saw the gift of discernment as one of the most valuable for living the Christian life.  Is there anything more challenging than trying to figure out when, why, what, and how to say something that might be difficult for someone to receive?  This is why if we are able to master our tongues and our speech, we are told that we will find our way into living lives of peace. And that is something I think we could all quietly nod in agreement to.  Amen.

Friday, January 3, 2014

PROLOGUE (cont.)
Let us then rise at length, since the Scripture arouseth us, saying: "It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep" (Rom 13:11); and having opened our eyes to the deifying light, let us hear with awestruck ears what the divine voice, crying out daily, doth admonish us, saying: "Today, if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps 94[95]:8). And again: "He that hath ears to hear let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" (Rev 2:7). And what doth He say?

I have recently embarked on trying to pray the traditional monastic hours...well, sort of.  I am not disciplined enough yet to get up at 3 a.m. to pray matins/laud/prime, but I have tried praying matins according to the monastic breviary prior to praying morning prayer from the 1979 prayerbook.  Although I am really enjoying my time of prayer in the early morning, I must admit that winter might have been a bad time to start.  Jen and I tend to keep the heat way down overnight in the winter because we have flannel sheets with a down comforter and a pretty heavy quilt.  The problem, however, is that when my alarm goes off before the sun comes up, I am so toasty and warm that the last thing I want to do is get out of bed.  Plus, with it being dark out, it kind of feels like the entire cosmos is still sleeping.  But that's just the thing isn't it?  The world is wide awake.  The early morning hours just sound and feel different from the rest of the day.  Even though its quiet, it is a "loud" quiet.  It's as if the sun is trying to find through the darkness and if you just listen carefully enough, you can hear God whispering, "rise from your sleep." 

As I make my way down the stairs I am torn between bitter grumbling and joyous anticipation.  Now before one thinks I am too pious, please know that my anticipation is not so much for entering the Lord's presence in prayer, but rather for that first sip of coffee.  But, once I have had that first sip and I have gotten situated in my study, I do actually feel my heart getting softer.  I don't know if it's just the legal addictive stimulant, or if maybe, just maybe, it's the realization that I am about to have a conversation with the maker of the universe.  What I do know, however, is that I begin praying the venite which is quoted in today's portion of the prologue, like the sun trying to break forth from the night I feel my soul trying to leap out of my body.  It is so wonderful to feel this intimate exchange between the divine creator and myself that sometimes wish the sun didn't make it through; I don't want to lose that sense of anticipation of what the Lord might have in store for me that day.  It's in the early morning hours that hope and grace seem to abound the most.  The prospects of a new day presents us with the opportunity to experience the goodness of God anew.  The possibilities are in fact endless. 

May you and I avail ourselves to hear the cry of the Lord which is the divine's alarm clock for us to arise.  Amen.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

"Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.  To thee, therefore, my speech is now directed, who, giving up thine own will, takest up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King.  In the first place, beg of Him by most earnest prayer, that He perfect whatever good thou dost begin, in order that He who hath been pleased to count us in the number of His children, need never be grieved at our evil deeds. For we ought at all times so to serve Him with the good things which He hath given us, that He may not, like an angry father, disinherit his children, nor, like a dread lord, enraged at our evil deeds, hand us over to everlasting punishment as most wicked servants, who would not follow Him to glory."

During the holidays it is not unusual for all of us to receive invitations to several parties thrown by friends, families, co-workers or even parishioners.  As an introvert I find myself entertaining a variety of emotions when invited to a large festive gathering.  They range from terror, anxiety, excitement, joy and terror...did I mention anxiety?  In the prologue to his rule, St. Benedict extends an invitation -- to those who are willing -- to live in community, but not just however they'd like.  Notice that right off the bat he is not concerned so much with how the individual might "feel" about the invitation, but rather points to the goal of accepting such an invite, namely, relationship with God. 

At the end of the day, Benedict's rule is about "returning."  Ever since the fall in Eden, humans have tried to find their way back to God.  We do this with our attempts at good works.  But for Benedict, obedience doesn't stem simply out of obligation, but instead out of love.  It is fitting that what ultimately draws us back to God is the very thing that we as humans long for the be loved.  All that our heavenly Father wants is to love us, bless us and cherish us.  Yet we fight with all our might to reject it.  It's like the little boy that has a crush on a really cute girl.  And she's the type that  really loves to be the center of every one's attention. But the minute someone actually shows an interest, she pulls away, mocking and ridiculing the little boy. 

And notice that Benedict doesn't lay it at the feet of the monk to pour out a perfect love to Almighty God.  Instead, the monk is admonished to "beg of Him by most earnest prayer, that He perfect whatever good thou dost begin, in order that He who hath been pleased to count us in the number of His children, need never be grieved at our evil deeds."  All the good works that the monk and we ourselves are able to do originate in the one whom we desire to follow.  We are unable to earn the love of Christ in anything we do.  All that is required of us is to accept the invitation.  When we RSVP in the positive, we consent to do the will of the Father, which in turn empowers us to love as He first loved us.  It's like being invited to a party, and on the invitation, you're asked to bring a bottle of wine, but the host tells you what kind to bring; they even give you the money for it!  And when you arrive at the party and hand the host the wine, they thank you profusely as if it was all your idea.  May you and I find ourselves willing and able to accept Benedict's invitation to be a part of the greatest party ever thrown.  Amen.
For the next several weeks I am offering some devotional thoughts on the daily readings from St. Benedict's rule as presented in St. Benedict's Rule for Monasteries.  I hope you find them enriching and encouraging in your faith walk as well as an opportunity to be better acquainted with this great spiritual document.