The Wisdom in The Rule

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In a previous post this year I discussed readers to one concept in The Rule of St. Benedict. Today, on the Feast of St. Benedict, I decided to spend more time discussing The Rule.

In the interest of full disclosure I will say that I have not yet read the complete published version of The Rule. I have a goal of doing that some day, but I decided as someone looking to learn more at this point I’d read a book written by someone who’s immersed herself in living The Rule. Joan Chittister is a nun in the Order of St. Benedict, and has written 81 books about spirituality and the monastic life, so I decided that her book Wisdom Distilled From the Daily would be a good place to start learning. I will continue to read and learn, because if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from this process it’s that I’ve just seem the tippy tip of the iceberg. I’m going to attempt to describe the importance of The Rule and why I felt so called to learn about it – and to do it the justice it deserves.

The first thing that people think when they hear that Benedictine monastic communities are living according to The Rule of St. Benedict, which was written around the year 525, is that they’re living in the dark ages. The reality is that every one of us has something to learn from The Rule that applies to our lives. The Rule is much more involved than I can get in to here, but if you’re interested in learning more about it I’d encourage you to either read Joan’s book (I do not know her and I am receiving nothing from plugging her book) or stay tuned because there’s a very real possibility that I will continue to write posts on how I’m trying to live my life more according to The Rule.

The Rule is a guide to living life in a Spiritual manner and living life as a member of a community. The Rule was written for monastics, but there is so much that pertains to living life regardless of your vocation that it deserves to be studied.

As I said in my previous post, I was educated at a Benedictine college so the concept of Balance was introduced to me early in my adulthood, but it’s been within the last ten years that I’ve come to realize that Balance is a concept that I need to live by. I am a person who holds myself to very high standards and has a strong work ethic, neither of which is a bad thing, but it’s very easy for me to let my days become consumed with one aspect of my life – usually work. I recognize that for my own physical health as well as my mental and spiritual health I need to live life more in balance than out of balance.

Joan refers to Prayer, Work & Holy Leisure (reading and spiritual renewal) as three spiritual foundations of Benedictine life, but unlike a stool with three equal legs, like this

it’s more like a pie chart that’s unevenly distributed.

Some days our time might be more consumed by Work, but others by Leisure. The idea is not that for every 8 hours of work we’re entitled to 8 hours of leisure and 8 hours of prayer, but rather that it’s important for each of us to learn to incorporate Work, Prayer and Leisure in to our day, week, month and year. It’s important to recognize when we’re working too much (or not enough), Praying too much (or not enough), and when we’re getting too much (or not enough) Leisure.

This concept, that life has multiple foundations is not a concept new to Benedict (and I suspect that he’d tell us that if he could). Doesn’t Ecclesiastes 3:1 tell us “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens”?

One concept that really stuck out to me was that Benedict taught that work is a gift to be given, a Christian duty to the community, a part of holiness. Work is co-creative because it allows us to assist God in building community.

When you’re working do you feel that you’re called to holiness?

Many jobs that I’ve had in my life I would have said no, it’s just a job, but I’m very fortunate to be able to say, for the first time in my life, that I truly feel that I’m called to holiness through my job. I am living my Christian duty and giving gifts to the community as a whole. I often pray that God will use me to reach people, and I love the feeling that I get when He does.

But God doesn’t want us to be all about work; He expects us to rest and revive ourselves as well. Joan pointed out that many scripture experts teach us that God is so committed to us including Leisure in our lives that he rested on the seventh day of creation. God didn’t rest because He needed to; He rested because he expects us to take a break after work and rest.

When was the last time that you truly took the time to Rest?

But Benedict doesn’t speak of Leisure as sloth. He speaks of Leisure as something that would benefit our soul. He speaks of it as Holy Leisure. He speaks of it as something that will engage our heart and broaden our vision, and something that will deepen our insight and strengthen our soul.

Holy Leisure is the reflective reading of scripture, the practice that allows us to move from merely reciting formulas (memorized prayer that can become almost a mindless chant if we allow it to be) to a real experience.

When was the last time that you took the time for Holy Leisure? What do you need to do to make the time for Holy Leisure?

Prayer allows us the opportunity to be in real relationship with God. It really resonated with me when Joan said that her spiritual adviser told her long ago that there will never be time for prayer. If we wait to pray until we have time to pray we will never pray, we must make the time for prayer. If you think about it, that makes sense. I must make time for my relationship with God, just as I do for my relationship with my husband, or my parents, or my staff. If a relationship is worth nurturing it’s worth taking time for.

I am not sure if anything that I’ve said has made a bit of difference for you, my friends. I am on fire with the ideas contained in this book, the ideas that St. Benedict taught nearly 1,500 years ago, but I worry that I’m not doing a good job of communicating those ideas and conveying them to all of you.

Perhaps rather than trying to continue to do these ideas justice I should leave you with the words of St. Benedict himself, taken from Rule 4:

“Take care of everything, revere one another, eat and drink moderately, pray where you work, think deeply about life every day, read, sleep well, don’t demand the best of everything, pray daily, and live as community.”

Seems like a pretty good guide for life, doesn’t it?

5 Replies to “The Wisdom in The Rule”

  1. I think you explained it very well. The key is balance. And how we manage our time is important. There is not enough time in the day for me to get everything done that I need to for my large family. I have to make time. I especially have to find time to pray and time to play. The work always finds me, lol.

  2. I usually enjoy the blogs on this site, but i would not suggest looking to Sr. Joan Chittister as an authority on authentic Catholic teaching. She is considered a dissident Catholic who is pro-abortion and in favour of womens’ ordinations, among other things. if you want to study a rule of life that speaks to lay women too, read St. Teresa of Avila’s Way of Perfection.

    1. JoAnne~

      I appreciate your comment and I certainly was not trying to say in my post that Joan Chittister is an authority on Catholic teaching, but rather on the Wisdom found in The Rule of St. Benedict. St. Benedict taught about the importance of Balance in Life, and unlike other monastics at the time, taught that there is a great importance to be found in and placed in work. In my experience any teaching on the importance of balance between Work, Prayer and Holy Leisure is something that can benefit people in today’s world just as it did 1,500 years ago. I certainly learned something from her writings on this one subject.

      As a person drawn to Benedictine teachings I appreciated her insight. I do appreciate your suggestion as well. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  3. Very well said. I enjoyed reading this summary of The Rule of St. Benedict and how his principles and ideals can be used by us today. I have to say I am not familiar with sr. Chittister unless I just don’t remember reading anything about her because we are occupied by so much during the day, I am surrounded by articles and I also write, so my desk is covered along with photos, and the “I’ll get to it laters” so I don’t know her story although whatever her views, shouldn’t deter her from writing an accurate summary of one of the Churches teachers and Saints.

    History is history and can’t be changed unless it is a fictionalized novel so from what you have written it sounds like a good read and shows some very good points through the life and teachings of St. Benedict.

    I could sure use some balance! I do make the time for praying and talking with God as if he were sitting right there having a cup of tea across the table; I start the day before I put my feet on the floor Thanking Him for a good night and waking up! then hit the ground running as most women do and I have no children but do resident manage a business with my husband, one we don’t even own, but work as if we do so it can be a hectic day, every day is hectic, life is messy…. so we truly do need some balance. And as we are all valuable, creative, responsible women who multitask in our many hats…. we can because it looks like Rule 4 per your article …..applies to every fantastic woman I know. And they have it all goin’ on! and get it done…..all in God’s Grace.

    Peace & Hope!

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