The New Yorker has written a profile of Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option, and my husband and I were interviewed as part of the article. (It was very funny overhearing the New Yorker fact checker asking Alexi to confirm he was wearing a bow-tie when we met with the author, and that the mac-and-cheese we ate could be accurately described as “artisanal.”)
I’m glad the profile author, Joshua Rothman, included my story about a specific BenOp-inspired event I ran:
“We did an evening of job applications and prayer, because job applications suck,” Leah said. “Applying for jobs is profoundly depressing. When you don’t hear back, the message is: ‘You’re worthless.’ And that feeling of worthlessness isn’t only unpleasant. It’s untrue, from the point of view of being a Christian.”
I’m glad to have run (and hope to re-run) the night of job applications and prayer and food, but there are other parts of the Christian life I’m not as sure how to share. My husband and I have been reading Robert Cardinal Sarah’s God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith, and he repeatedly emphasizes the need for silence to cultivate attentiveness to and love of God. (His next book of interviews is simply titled The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, and I’m definitely planning to read it).
If silence is one of the most important parts of spiritual life, it seems unbalanced to not make space for it, not just in my own life, but in the spaces I invite my friends into. But I have trouble imagining how to combine hospitality and silence. Could I just invite people over for a night of silent prayer? I suppose there are sillier kinds of parties.
The BenOp is countercultural, and it seems most valuable to me when BenOp communities defend parts of our lives that are under passive attack, like silence, where there’s no flashy culture war to remind us that we’re losing one of the pillars of our lives, and no enemy we can defeat in court or in Congress in order to defend this part of our lives.
Fasting is another cornerstone of Christian life that is easy to neglect (at least for me) and hard to figure out how to invite people into. Eamon Duffy writes at First Things:
The Church has always linked personal asceticism and the search for holiness with this demand for mercy and justice to the poor; the Lenten trilogy of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is both fundamental and structural. By making fasting and abstinence optional, the Church forfeited one of its most eloquent prophetic signs. There is a world of difference between a private devotional gesture, the action of the specially pious, and the prophetic witness of the whole community—the matter-of-fact witness, repeated week by week, that to be Christian is to stand among the needy.
Fasting was social simply because it was shared, not a Fridays and Lenten choose-your-own adventure. When fasting and silence aren’t offered to all of us as a shared practice by the institutional church, how can I best offer it to my friends, so they can support me and I can support them in these parts of our faith?
How would you invite people over to enter into fasting or silence?