Monastic Spirituality for the Christian in the World

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Monastic Spirituality for the Christian in the World

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For me to be back here at Bishop's Ranch, and this is the eighth year, and I've been
a Benedictine 33 years, but I find this particular retreat very special.
It always is a moment of renewal for me, year after year in a very special way.
And more and more people are discovering the Benedictine heritage as something they want
to tap into.
People from all kinds of denominational backgrounds, and we had a paper in our folder from a Quaker
and Roman Catholic and Anglican papers, of course, but it's now more and more an ecumenical
source for many of us, I think.
It could still seem to some a fairly exotic topic.
Perhaps you also have some friends who raise an eyebrow when you say you're going off for
a week or to listen to some tapes on Benedictine experience.
Isn't it something like getting into Pakistani camel herders' experience or Tanzanian basket
weavers' experience, or something very remote and exotic and maybe pleasant for a moment
of escape, but what does it have to do with the dramatic problems that we know are out
there in the cities and inside, in the hearts of each one of us?
There aren't many Benedictines here, it could be argued, in Vow, so is this kind of a moment
of alienation, trying to relate to something that isn't precisely at the heart of your
own vocation or charism?
But the Benedictine is simply one instance of the monastic, and I think it can very convincingly
be argued that there are many monastics here, many monks.
We're all monks in one way or another, at one level or another.
Monk, monastic, these have an archetypical significance for each one of us.
By the way, this is just a footnote, but monk is a gender-inclusive term, it's not gender-exclusive,
and so many of our women monastics prefer that designation to nun or sister.
Anyway, I'll leave that to that particular debate, but it's not at all a sexist term,
but indeed is seen by women living the life as the more inclusive term.
So the monk as universal archetype.
There's a lovely collection of essays out, edited by Raimundo Panicar, called Blessed
Simplicity, The Monk as Universal Archetype, and the title says it all, I think.
He is an interesting writer.
His mother is Spanish-Roman Catholic, and his father is Hindu-Indian, so he's very much
a bridge person, and he's taught for years at Harvard in the area of comparative religion,
then for years at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
So he's into all kinds of exotic experiences in Asia, in Europe, and in the United States.
So he has that wider horizon that gives legitimacy to this kind of claim of universal archetypical
significance.
Well, he starts out his essay, The Archetype of the Monk, and he says,
By monk I understand that person who aspires to reach the ultimate goal of life with all
one's being, by concentrating on this one single and unique goal.
So the monk is the person who focuses, who is after that one pearl of great price, who
is after the one thing necessary.
Then he goes on to say, Well, that's all of us.
The monk is simply someone who does that in such a focused and in some ways exclusive
way that that person is a kind of a sacramental sign, an outward and visible sign of this
grace and charism in all of us.
So he goes on, page 11 of this, The thesis I am defending is that the monk is the expression
of an archetype which is a constitutive dimension of all of human life.
This archetype is a unique quality of each person.
So I think Jack said rightly yesterday that we don't want to play games that we're all
monks or nuns and vows or something like that.
But we are at this level, at this deepest level, indeed monks and nuns.
We're discovering this dimension of our yearning of our life.
He then goes on that there's a non-monastic dimension or pole in each one of us.
He terms this, that pole of creative complexity.
So you have on the one hand a blessed simplicity, the seeking after the ultimate, the absolute
God, the one thing necessary.
But then you have this other pole of all kinds of things that give expression to all those
gifts and interests and abilities in each one of us.
And the trick is not to just suppress one of these and go with the other, but to find
some kind of creative interaction of these two.
The blessed simplicity goal and pole finds an outward expression in the monk.
The creative complexity pole finds a classical expression in the marriage vocation.
And there again, that is archetypical.
It's as reasonable for married people to come for a week on Benedictine or monastic spirituality
as it would be for a monk, such as myself, or someone single in the world, to go to a
week that would explore the marriage archetype.
Carl Stern says that all being is spousal.
I think it's a lovely phrase.
And Carl Jung says that we ignore that marriage archetype to our own peril.
Not that we should all rush out and marry, but that we all have to come to terms with
that yearning within us, within each one of us, for a happy conjunction of the feminine
and the masculine within.
So as according to, as I understand it, all of Jungian doctrine, it's not again an either-or,
either the creative complexity or the blessed simplicity, either the classically monastic
or the classically spousal, but both-and in some kind of creative interplay.
And the life vocation adventure is simply sorting out which of these is to take the lead, which
of these is to be dominant, and then, having found that and having lived that thoroughly,
not to repress, not to ignore that other group of us monks.
Some years ago we were at a dinner party given by the dean of Grace Cathedral, Dean Jones.
He's married and kids, and they were all there, and we were chatting about these two
archetypical vocations, monastic and marital.
And just to stir the pot a little, I said, don't you think that monastic celibacy is
against nature?
And he grinned and shot back immediately, if there's anything that's against nature,
it's marriage.
And there was his wife and kids, and they grinned too, and they agreed also.
But what do we mean by nature there?
If we mean by what is classically called fallen nature, when each of us gets into our own
little ego space and wants to be the center of the world and wants everything else to
be simply in function to me, myself, and I, well then certainly marriage is against
nature, and certainly the monastic charism is against nature.
But if we mean nature the way the good Lord created us, then again, we're all of us.
Monk, we're all of us called to that nuptial fulfillment.
Merton goes on again and again, as do the fathers and the mothers of the Church, about
that essentially contemplative vocation of Adam and Eve, to be with God in that immediacy
and trust that paradise, that nakedness, expresses.
But also, man and woman, God created them.
This is the image of God in its fullness.
So right back at the origin of it all, we have these two archetypes in a fruitful play.
And redemption, what the Lord brings us, is to restore those two in their creative interplay
and to bring them to a new fecundity in Christ.
So we're all here, and we're all listening to this tape, hopefully thousands of us, simply
because this is about all of us.
This has universal significance.
And about each one of us, also in a very personal way, as Jack was saying this morning, as we
claim this archetype and incarnate it in our own personal story.
But to talk about the archetypical significance of this theme is a liberating thing, because
it gets us beyond simply the egocentric focus.
It's not just me wanting to be a big monk, or me wanting to have the best wife on the
block or something.
This is something deeper.
This is about that most profound yearning in my heart, in your heart, in all of us.
And then we want to, again, integrate that in our personal story, make it individuated,
so that it is my way of being monk, and your way of being monk, my way of living the nuptial
calling and your way.
Augustine says, you have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and we are restless till we rest
in you.
This is about just the ultimate yearning of our flesh and bones, and it's at that level
that we want to be monk, at that level that we want also to live out that nuptial again.
Because we are talking about something at this level, there's also the shadow side,
if we want to be good classical Jungians.
Every archetype has its shadow side, and we want to be aware of that.
Even in its lightsome side, an archetype can become so intoxicating, and I can relate to
it in a very unhealthy way, so that the whole thing does become alienating.
I simply, forgetting my own very concrete humanity, my own very personal story and limits
and woundedness, etc., want to become monk archetype.
And we get a bit of that with the people who come to us at our monastery and want to become
monks.
In what sense?
They want to become monks sometimes, and that can be very dangerous.
And so we want to ask how we're relating to this archetype, and it can't be in too obsessed,
addictive a way.
It wants to be with that freedom and with that rationality and just that common sense,
and some deep sense of humility that keeps us healthy here.
And then the archetype itself, however healthy a way we relate to it, it can be alienating.
It can have its dark side.
It can get into a kind of a spiritual pride elitism kind of thing.
Well, those people are just lay people, or just diocesan priests, but I'm a monk.
This is postgraduate religiosity.
And that, of course, is the pits.
That's the ultimate temptation is spiritual arrogance, spiritual pride.
And so this is a very tricky business.
As we're quite aware, there's the classic icon of the monks ascending Jacob's Ladder.
Well, the farther you get up, the more dangerous the fall, and this is expressed very vividly
in a wonderful icon of Mount Sinai.
And the higher you get up, then when you fall, you can break every bone in your body.
So that, as St. Benedict wisely says, it's only by descending into more profound humility
every day that we can more securely walk in this monastic way, or indeed in the way of
marriage, I think.
The person who's single in the world, I think, can creatively relate to both of these in
a very interesting way.
I think one can argue, convincingly, that Jesus was single in the world, and Jesus was
monk.
Pelican has a wonderful book out about Christ through the centuries, and one of the archetypical
ways of seeing Christ is Christ the monk, but Christ is also the spouse.
Well, Christ, as a single person in the world, who literally, it would seem, was neither
a Qumran monk or married to Mary Magdalene or anyone else, he can relate to these in
a way that challenges each of us in our own particular location to relate to both of them.
But it can be also a dark and constricted way of living our Christian life, if you
get into the monastic in an unhealthy way.
I don't know how many of you have seen that film, Name of the Rose, or read the huge,
pretentious novel, but the author there, in a delightful Italian way, explores all the
sinister alleys and dark corners of this kind of thing, and it can get very sick indeed.
I think seeing the Name of the Rose should be part of the agenda of the monastic archetype,
so that one doesn't get too ethereal and triumphalistic about it all.
It can get Manichean, the body is bad, creation is bad, all that kind of thing.
It can get Manichean, I'm blocking on the word, it's masochistic, that's it, I've got to hurt
myself to really grow in God's love.
Apparently a true story of that Sunday school teacher who asks the kids, what does Jesus
want most?
And one of them waves his hand and says, I know, pain.
So this is the way some of us were brought up, and so we have to be careful.
I wasn't, I was brought up a mellow Anglican, and Jesus wants most that we enjoy, but for
some of us it can get into that.
And so I think this doesn't mean don't explore this mysterious dimension of all this, but
it means explore very carefully, because if it is a universal archetype, we're not
living this dimension validly unless we can live it in every moment, not just when we're
in the sanctuary, not just, John, when we're chanting Gregorian, not just when we're kneeling
before the lovely Varian icon, or whatever way we particularly focus on the monastic,
but it should be available to us in every moment, also in the irritating moments, moments
when things don't quite go right, in the moments that don't have much significance, really.
They should have significance through a kind of monastic mindfulness and presence to that
moment.
Somehow God is there at the heart of it, and that's the key, and sometimes God is there
in those unexpected and less significant moments in a deeper way than in the sublime moments.
So to be open to the universality of this reality, meaning in every culture, in every
time, but also in every nook and corner of my own life.
I don't have to be monk only when I'm in a particularly pious and exalted, when I'm angry,
when I'm depressed, when I'm just blah, or when I'm happily mellow.
Those are also appropriately monastic moments to claim and to relate to this heart of the matter.
There's this lovely book out by Father Brian Taylor, an Episcopal priest, who is also a
husband and father of Benedictine oblate.
His book, Spirituality for Everyday Living, an Adaptation of the Rule of Saint Benedict.
This is published by Liturgical Press, so this is another one of those lovely ecumenical ventures.
Just in this introduction he says, balance, zeal, and moderation are the qualities of
the rule of Saint Benedict that make it a humane approach for imperfect human beings who seek
the perfection of God in their lives.
In this sense, Benedict's rule is incarnational.
It works with people as they are in this world, calling them to what they can become in Christ.
The Benedictine way is a force from within that acts as leaven in the loaf.
To become fully human in this life as it has been given to us is to allow the sacredness
of the ordinary to become manifest.
I think that's a lovely phrase, it could be kind of our motto, to allow the sacredness
of the ordinary to become manifest.
This is the Benedictine.
To seek God in work, in cooking, prayer, community, greeting strangers, dealing with possessions.
This is to enter into the mystery of the incarnation.
Benedict did not add to the gospel of Jesus Christ, he simply provided a way of seeing
Christ's continual incarnation in this world.
So this is a particularly demanding challenge.
We could all compartmentalize our spirituality, and the very term is ambiguous, spirituality.
It's not a biblical term, and some good traditions of the Reformed are rather hesitant about it.
I taught some seven years up in Berkeley a course on history of Christian spirituality.
I would ask the Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians to come in to talk about Lutheran
approach to spirituality, Presbyterian, etc.
And first they had to work through all this skepticism, because maybe there is no such
thing as a Lutheran approach to spirituality, because the term itself suggests that we get
into some exquisite, sublime spirituality level of our being, and Luther, if he was
anything, he was earthy, even bawdy in his more delightful moments.
And that's the way he wants Christianity to be lived, and so is Wingley, etc.
I think they challenge us to be careful not to compartmentalize what we're talking about.
So, one good monastic practice is just to be aware of where I am, just geographically.
It might be in this lovely space that does suggest the monastic, but it might also be
on a bus, or I'm caught in a traffic jam, or in the line in the grocery store, or whatever.
That is a monastic space.
And then to be aware of where I am within, really.
It might be a space of anger, depression, fear, sadness, whatever.
That is a monastic space, and claim that if we really want to achieve an integration.
So, our homework assignment, if we're really going to take seriously this monastic claim
on us, this challenge of the rule for us, is to universalize it, to see that it is applicable
for everything, and if it isn't, then we're not applying it right.
Also for sin, there's that lovely text of Paul, I think it's Romans 8, for those who
love God, all things work to the good.
Augustine has this powerful footnote, all things, even sin, if sin is the occasion for compunction,
for independence, for a deeper opening out to God.
So, yes, the Benedictine, we can be for all of us, and indeed the Benedictine life, because
it wants to be encountered at this deepest level of monasticism of the heart, and not
just at the level of scapulars, and smells, and bells, and things.
And, of course, in talking about the monastic, we're talking about something that even Christianity
doesn't have a monopoly on.
If one thinks about it at all, of course there are Buddhist monks, there are Hindu monks,
there is some kind of counterpart to the monastic in any and every religious tradition.
I was back east giving this Benedictine Experience Week at the lovely Episcopal Holy Cross Motherhouse
at West Park, and one of the monks took me up to see this shaker village, and a very moving
powerful place and witness of these people, but it's classically monastic, including the
commitment to celibacy, to shared goods, to obedience, to a life of balance and seriousness,
and focus on the gospel, etc.
Right here in the far left of the Protestant Reform is this classically monastic form of
life that gets expressed even in the chairs they build.
This is an exhilarating aspect of getting in touch with the monastic, is getting in touch
with the universal yearning for God, and this is the way, perhaps, to encounter Hinduism
at its deeper level, or Buddhism.
The Vatican got involved in the East-West Dialogue rather late, but they did it with
a great enthusiasm, so the Vatican phoned up all these great spiritual leaders of Hinduism
and invited them to Rome for a dialogue, and many of them said yes, and so they started
the Vatican thinking, well, now what do we do?
They discovered, to their astonishment, that all these people who were coming were monks
in one way or another.
So they got the Benedictine Monastery and our own Canalese Monastery in Rome on the phone
and said, hey, there's some monks coming, what does this mean?
So they housed these monks with us, and of course there was an immediate harmony and
synchronicity there, because the basic goal was the same, blessed simplicity, whether one
is Christian or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or Sufi or whatever.
So one of the things this does is open up a very exciting horizon.
It's kind of like the firmament in the heavens.
Tim here said that he's been studying monasticism for years and only got up to the rule of St.
Benedict, and this, I assume, is in the Christian tradition only.
You can spend a lifetime on Proconius, on the Desert Fathers and Mothers, on Basil,
and just in the Christian tradition, never get to Benedict.
Or you can spend a lifetime on 8th-century English monasticism or 14th-century monasticism
of the Sinai or of Mount Athos, or of this particular current of Buddhist tradition,
Zen Buddhist monasticism.
We at Luca Mali have this bond of friendship with the Tassajara Zen Buddhist monks, and
then with the Zen Center in San Francisco, etc.
And we're very aware that's a very different type of Buddhist monasticism than Tibetan
Buddhist monasticism, so it's an extremely rich theme.
So getting into it, it's not that we'll exhaust it with these tapes or with this week, or
with a lifetime.
We'll simply explore a little into the mystery, all the stories throughout history and in
prehistory of how people have lived out this archetype, to challenge us to live it out
in a more expansive, inclusive way.
So the conclusion is that this can be a lifetime challenge, and hopefully it will be seen as
this in the best possible sense.
One of the ways of living the monastic that immediately precedes Jesus and is the same
time as Jesus and John the Baptist and the Apostles is the Essene-Qumran tradition, right
within the Jewish heritage.
We've classically known about the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the high priests, these
currents of Jewish spirituality of the time, but it's more recently that we've been learning
about this fascinating proto-monastic, monastic way of living the Jewish story, which is the
Essene, which is Qumran.
And if one looks closely at the life of Qumran, at the literature of the Essenes, what was
involved, for instance, was a vow of celibacy for at least a core group, and then apparently
there were married couples on the periphery of the experience, as in our monastery we
have a married couple, obelisks, living also on our grounds.
And this group of monks also had their vow of obedience to the spiritual leader, they
also had the sharing of goods, they had a three-year novitiate, they have all those
kind of components that are characteristic of monastic life.
And what makes it interesting is just the location of Qumran was within sight of where
John the Baptist carried out his great ministry there of baptism there at the Jordan.
So more and more biblical scholars, Anglican and of the Reformed and Roman Catholic, are
exploring this fascinating, these echoes in the message of John the Baptist.
And remember that John and Andrew, for instance, were disciples of John the Baptist, and then
they switched, they went over to Jesus, bringing that experience, as the Zealots who went over
to Jesus, or the Pharisees who went over to Jesus, inevitably brought that whole experience.
Paul brings his whole experience. He might then react against it, but it's very much
there in his message and his way of experiencing and presenting Christ.
So, we're starting to realize that here's something that from the beginning was in the
apostolic community, and Raymond Brown has written some interesting things on the Qumran
echoes in the Johannine literature, all those stark contrasts between life and death, truth
and the lie, all this calling to this decisive moment. And in the synoptics, all those classic
texts from Isaiah that are classic texts for the Essene literature, all this eschatological
expectation, the moment of the arrival of the Messiah, etc.
So, there was a time when it was thought that, at least in the Reform, that monasticism was
kind of at a later contamination. There was your authentic, pure gospel way of living Christianity,
which was particularly Pauline. And then as the centuries come and go, this is diluted
with all kinds of contaminations, and the worst of these is this monastic thing that
comes from God knows where, and it certainly involves works of righteousness and the betrayal
of the central Pauline insight of salvation by faith alone, etc. So, the monastic is
the enemy, really, and so if you want to really live the gospel, you live in a real sense
the anti-monastic. But I think more and more also the Reform is seeing that this isn't
precisely the way it is, that this monastic, again, is part of the foundational and part
of the nurturing and molding force of the self-understanding of the early Christian community.
So as we get into our monastic archetype, we get into simply the primordial sources
of the Judeo-Christian experience that we encounter in John, that we encounter also
in Paul, as Raymond Brown says. The Letter to the Hebrews is a classic Christian text
with Essene echoes. So, one of the benefits, one of the perks of this kind of week and
the listening of this tape, is to get into the origins also of the Christian experience.
And some spiritual, some biblical experts, scholars, argue that Jesus was in his first
period very much a disciple of John the Baptist. Well, this means he was doing something like
a monastic novitiate. And some think that John the Baptist might even have spent a period
at Qumran. I'm thumbing through my pages here to find that quote from Raymond Brown. But
here's a few quotes from his article on Qumran scrolls and the Johannine Gospels and Gospels
and Epistles. The argument for the interrelation between the Johannine writings and the Qumran
literature is indeed strong. Then he says after the Johannine there's the Pauline, there's
also a Letter to the Hebrews. Virtually everyone who has studied the Qumran texts in the light
of the New Testament has recognized the startling Qumran parallels in their narratives concerning
John the Baptist. Almost every detail of his life and preaching has a Qumran affinity.
From this it would seem likely that the Baptist, before his contact with the Christ, was in
relationship with Qumran or other Essenes. Perhaps he was raised by the community or
in contact with the community or the head of a quasi-Essene group. If this is true and
if John, son of Zebedee, was his disciple, we can explain very well the Qumran impact
on the fourth Gospel. So hopefully what we're doing is seeming a little less exotic. And
then as we go up to the sixth century, as we start to come to terms specifically with
this one incarnation of the monastic, which is the rule of St. Benedict, there again we
are coming to terms with a document that isn't marginal and exotic and curious, but then
becomes extremely important and foundational for the rest of Western Christian spirituality.
So if you're anti-Jung and you don't want to hear anything about archetypes and if you
don't believe in the connection between the Johannine literature and Qumran, if you're
Western, if you're a Christian in the Western tradition, there's monastic in you simply
through the historical influence of the rule of St. Benedict. Whether you are Episcopal
or Roman Catholic or of the Reform, it's interesting now, the birthing forth of monastic experiences
in the Reform, the Lutheran Benedictine communities in Europe and the United States and that splendid
flourishing ecumenical monastic experience of Taizé, etc. So more and more the various
traditions are claiming this heritage that's just there objectively. So if one's going
to do spirituality in a serious way, part of this means get back to the roots, find
out where we come from so we can understand in some more enlightened way where we are
now and where we can go. Well, if we want to get to where we come from, the rule of
St. Benedict is one of the classics, again, for all of the Christian traditions in the
West, certainly for the Roman Catholic tradition. For Roman Catholics, St. Benedict is officially
the patron saint of Europe and patriarch of Western monasticism, so patriarch of this Western
way of living this archetypical experience. And there's thousands and thousands of monks,
nuns, sisters in the Roman Catholic tradition now, of Trappists and Black Benedictines and
White Benedictines, and with quite an influence through colleges and retreat houses and parishes,
if nothing else. But if you look at the literature in spirituality now, we have a whole table back
there. I hope you think also of your Christmas shopping. It's interesting, so many are reading
about Benedictine spirituality, and it's amazing to me how many Anglicans are doing this. Whether
it be Esther de Waal, who in a certain way started all this discovery, reclaiming of the Benedictine
heritage for everyone, or it could be someone like Brian Taylor or Doreen Vest. There's a whole
literature that's also Anglican, a whole literature that's Roman Catholic, but also more and more,
again, the Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians are, and said, I'm not so superstitious as to
believe in chance. So this is simply historical influence. The Benedictine centuries that so
shaped England, all up and down England, it was a Benedictine way of living the gospel that was
witnessed to the people in the towns and villages and also in the cities, through the cathedrals,
through the parishes, so that the basic components of Benedictine life, liturgy, community, spiritual
reading, personal prayer, these are the basic components of the Benedictine ethos. Martin
Thornton, in his classic English Spirituality, goes on and on about this Benedictine shape and
concludes that the modern English Church is still thoroughly Benedictine, and he notes this
parallel between the Book of Common Prayer on the one hand and the Rule of St. Benedict on the other,
just the basic building blocks of spirituality. Esther de Waal, before she got into this thing
of spirituality for the laity and for everyone, she was a medieval scholar, and she, in her
introduction to a marvelous book, Seeking God the Way of St. Benedict, she mentions just this
historical foundation to it all, and she has some statistics, I think, that are fascinating. By the
beginning of the 13th century in England and Wales alone, the number of houses of black monks had
grown to 300, and the white monks, the Cistercians, had some 70 houses. This is just the monks, and I
asked her, she said she doesn't mean the nuns there, so this is 370 houses just in England in
the 1200s, England and Wales. Well, I got out my atlas and pocket calculator, there are 58,000
square miles in England and Wales. I bet you didn't even know that constant. Now, California is
almost three times as big as that, so if there were 370 Benedictine houses, you see where I'm
getting? That is the equivalent of something like a thousand Benedictine abbeys and priories,
cathedral houses, up and down just California. You can imagine what kind of impact that would
have on the shape of Christianity as it would be lived in California. And as Esther mentions,
there's this amazing phenomenon, more in England than also the nations on the continents, of the
cathedral priory, of the monastics who would staff the cathedral so that the bishop would be a monk,
as classics Dunstan or Anselm, the monastic choir would be monastics, the choir of the cathedral
would be monastics, and the outreach, the catechism, the schools. One can make a case that the cradle
of our schools and universities, as we know them in the West, are the Benedictine schools. So she's
arguing, if you're Anglican, you've got to get into the Benedictine just to know what it means,
what it really means in a deeper level to be Anglican. I think the same thing can certainly
be said of the Roman Catholic, and this opens up all kinds of ecumenical resources. This is what
Vatican II calls spiritual ecumenism at a level that's more profound than simply exploring the
doctrinal parallels or problems or disciplinary problems in our churches, but how, by spirituality,
if we mean life in the Spirit, how we, in the Spirit, open our heart to the Father in Christ,
then this is the very deepest level to explore our uniqueness, our diversity, and how Christ is
also calling us to be one. So all that is just a big kind of commercial for, let's do what you
already want to do, but hopefully this will be an ongoing motivation. We need this motivation. It
takes focus and commitment to come back to this center, to come back to the still point of the
world, which is this blessed simplicity, this cleaving to God alone. And so all of this hopefully
will keep us on the way. Another final motive is, thank God, the rule of Saint Benedict is a good
rule. All of this could be true, and it could be a bad rule. There's all kinds of bad monastic rules
out there, but in fact it's a rule that is filled with humanity, with a sense of balance, realism. It
starts from where we are in our brokenness and limits, but it calls us to the perfection of the
gospel. I think Brian Cater caught that dialectic very nicely. Benedict says that the abbot should
propose monastic life that the weak don't fall into utter panic, and the strongest have still
something to strive for. So it's that both-and origin says that the Word of God is very mysterious,
such that the elephants can swim in it, and the gnats can wade in it. It should be the same for
Benedictine spirituality, and it speaks to us wherever we are, in our darkest and most broken
moments, and also in our highest moments of communion with God. The great Anglican scholar
Owen Shadwick writes of the rule, the spiritual teaching of Saint Benedict has now for more than
1,500 years influenced the religious life of Western Europe. It is as fresh and living today as it was
in the days of St. Gregory the Great. Clear, simple, and wise. And the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian
Church says that the rule of Saint Benedict is alone among the rules. It is a classic in the
strict theological sense that it is this document that has generated a whole tradition, including,
in a real sense, the Anglican and the Roman Catholic of subsequently. And that that tradition
in key moments of renewal goes back to the original document to find the life and the force
and the inspiration for renewal. It so transcends its own time that it can speak with a very
mysterious immediacy to us here in California, in this place, or back east in New York, or in England,
or hopefully wherever. So for all of these reasons, let's with courage set out on this
journey into the rule of Saint Benedict. Amen.