{Practicing Benedict} The Finale: A Beginning

{Practicing Benedict} The Finale: A Beginning May 16, 2012

The purpose for which we have written this rule is to make it clear that by observing it in our monasteries we can at least achieve the first steps in virtue and good monastic practice. Anyone, however, who wished to press on towards the highest standards of monastic life may turn to the teachings of the holy Fathers, which can lead those who follow them to the very heights of perfection. Indeed, what page, what saying from the sacred scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is not given us by the authority of God as reliable guidance for our lives on earth? … We, however, can only blush with shame when we reflect on the negligence and inadequacy of the monastic lives we lead.

Whoever you may be, then, in your eagerness to reach your Father’s home in heaven, be faithful with Christ’s help to this small Rule which is only a beginning. Starting from there you may in the end aim at the greater heights of monastic teaching and virtue in the works which we have mentioned above and with God’s help you will then be able to reach those heights yourself. Amen.

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 73 (emphasis mine)


I have this memory of sitting at my computer during August’s naptime six weeks into our move to San Francisco. I had just spent the first 45 minutes of his nap building an Ikea desk. I did it backwards the first time and had to take it apart. Then, I drilled and grunted and propped that delicate fake-wood into its proper settings and set that cheap table on its feet. I placed two things upon it: my computer and my Benedictine Handbook.

Then I opened the screen to check in with my writerly friends from grad school. We were a group of women who had spent Thursday nights together throughout those three years in the early 2000’s. We’d get dinner and talk poetry while drinking tea. We had a little closed blog back then where we would post about what we were reading or writing. My friends were publishing books and teaching writing workshops and writing interesting essays on poetry and feminism. And I was wiping my kid’s butt. Not reading. And definitely not writing.

That afternoon, I opened the laptop to see a thread from a friend about her stressful life situation. She was struggling through an incredibly difficult season: unsure of the future of her marriage, trying to find a permanent teaching position, balancing her writing and her adjunct jobs and raising a toddler. She made a statement in her frustration. She said, “If only I could be some Stepford Wife and let somebody else take care of me!”

That’s all she said. She didn’t purposefully make fun of me. She was hurting and I was the selfish one. And you better believe I cried for myself. I sat at that new Ikea desk, my face smashed into the white plastic wood, and cried. I wept and asked God, “Is that all I am? Am I a lazy wife who lets my husband earn the money and take care of me? Am I useless? Am I wasting my gifts here in my home, washing the dishes and playing on the floor with my kid, making grilled cheese sandwiches?”

I had only just then begun my journey with St. Benedict. I was asking God to show me how to find purpose in this life at home. I was asking God how I was supposed to feel like this staying home business had any value compared to the work I had been in full time ministry just months before. I was looking at myself and my days alone with August and my loneliness in this new city, and I was gut-sobbing, “Please God, give me some help here. I don’t know where the joy is.”

And do you know how God used St. Benedict in my life? God began to daily lift up that veil where I was hiding my Crazy. Slowly, I heard words and phrases like: humility, stability, obedience, hospitality, heartfelt repentance, hurrying to the work of God, the spirit of silence, sincere and unassuming affection, prayer that should normally be short, words that are weighty and restrained…

* * *

Over time, I began to sense a change in my guts: It was a paradigm shift. It was as if I was, for the first time, actually believing Jesus when he spoke of a new way of seeing value. What mattered was not my own power in the world, my own ability to provide for myself or impress strangers with my usefulness in life, or, even, to be entertained in my monotonous day. What mattered was that I had a miraculous invitation to join the servants of the Kingdom of God in the work of Jesus, the work that no one in their right minds wants to do. I had the opportunity to wash dishes with a song on my lips, to stare in utter gratitude at the tiny fingers stacking those wooden colored blocks, to clean and pick up and sing and rock and bandage ouchies and pick up again. I was learning to make a stable place for my son in the midst of our unstable life post cross-country move. I was honored to learn the glory of wholeheartedness, to grasp the miracle that my life did not have to be externally impressive to be significant in God’s kingdom.

And do you know what happened? I learned to pray at that desk. Writing words on paper, leaning over my copy of Benedict’s Rule with sticky notes on the wall in front of me that said things like, “Count nothing more important than the love you should cherish for Christ,” (RSB, chapter 4) and “Humility is very slow business, if it’s authentic” (Michael Casey, Guide to Living in the Truth, via Monk Habits for Everyday People by Dennis Olkham).

I have learned a secret, whispered to me via Holy Spirit over the long, long path of 1500 years. It’s a secret truth that God whsipered in the scripture first, a secret I needed a friend like Benedict to speak louder so it broke through all that flesh, so it pebble-sank into my heart:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” (Isaiah 30:15)

Oh, friend, “whoever you may be,” may we be eager to run toward the full hearts God has always intended for us. May we quiet the voices spouting every kind of lie to our already bare-threaded souls. When we hear the words that tear our patched up psyches, may we learn the gift of gratitude and grace, and embrace those moments when we learn to give, when we learn to serve the least among us. May we find in them Christ. May we remember that “with Christ’s help” this “small Rule… is only a beginning.”

* * *


This is my last post in the {Practicing Benedict} series. Thanks for walking with me through it. I promise that Benedict will still be making some regular guest appearances around here and I’ll have a button up soon linking to every post in the series.






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