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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Wisdom Distilled from the Daily
Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today
HarperSanFrancisco 05/91 Paperback $13.95
At the time this book was written Joan Chittister had lived the Benedictine Rule in a monastic community for more than 30 years. She has distilled the wisdom of Benedictine spirituality which has great relevance to hard times:
"It teaches people to see the world as good, their needs as legitimate, and human support as necessary. Benedictine spirituality doesn't call for either great works or great denial. It simply calls for connectedness. It shows us how to connect with God, with others, and with our innermost selves."
Chittister begins with listening, which is at the core of Benedictine spirituality. It is about being attuned to the Gospels, the Rule, one another, and the world around us. Of course, it is difficult to practice listening in a culture that watches but seldom hears. The Rule instructs us to "listen with the ear of the heart." This means being open to the spiritual teachings that come to us every day.
Prayer, work, and holy leisure are the three legs which support Benedictine spirituality. Chittister writes about the importance of prayer in a life immersed in the presence of God, work as participation in the continuing creativity of the Holy One, and holy leisure as the key to the good life. She sees the emphasis upon community as an experiment in which individuals live with others in the spirit of Christ: "to support them, to empower them, and to learn from them." It also provides a perfect workshop for the exercise of the lost virtue of humility. Benedict's process for achieving humility is outlined in twelve progressive degrees. Chittister celebrates monastic mindfulness, which she describes as a blend of harmony, wholeness, and balance. Put all of these together and you have a vision of a flourishing life in which people can make beautiful music together.
The Rule of Benedict charged the monastery to "receive guests as Christ" and to take special care of "the poor and of pilgrims." In these times where millions of refugees roam the Earth and the poor, the homeless, and the helpless are shunned, the spiritual practice of hospitality is more important than ever:
"We have to learn how to take people in again or the poverty and the political hatred and the decimation of peoples and the turning of our own lives into icy islands will never end. We must learn in this century again to open our minds and open our hearts and open our lives and open our talents and open our hands to others. That is the hospitality for which the Rule of Benedict calls."
Chittister rounds out her discussion of Benedictine wisdom with chapters on obedience (holy responsibility), stability (revelation of the many faces of God), monastic practices (the way of conversion), peace (sign of the disarmed heart), and the monastic vision (gift for a needy world). One of the best things about this book is the author's many examples of everyday spirituality and her use of teaching stories. She concludes with this one:
"Once upon a time, the story goes, a preacher ran through the streets shouting, 'We must put God in our lives. We must put God in our lives.' And hearing him, an old monastic rose up in the city plaza to say, 'No, sir, you are wrong. You see, God is already in our lives. Our task is simply to recognize that.' It is to the recognition of God in our own lives that the Rule of St. Benedict calls us."
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