Prayer & the Rule of St. Benedict

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Part of "Prayer and the Rule of St. Benedict"

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And that's my domain. It happens all the time. Or I'm the guest master. Or I'm the head cantor in church. Or I'm the sacristan. See, my little domain. In Benedict's system, everyone must answer to somebody else. You're never king. Everyone, even the abbot, has to answer to the rule. And can be called on the carpet if he's not implementing the rule for the community. That's his task. And Benedict also adds, and finally, he is ultimately under the authority of God. And boy, is Benedict warning him strongly. You will have to answer if you've been a good shepherd or not. Not a good king, a good shepherd. And so not to abuse his position through self-will. Even possessions. Benedict is very concerned about possessiveness. Is ruthless.


He sees it as a terrible evil. The notion of personal possession. Because he knows what it does for ego inflation. You start to identify, I am my possessions. And of course, if I want to feel I'm more of something or someone, I gather more, like a pack rat. I gather more. My kingdom grows and I grow. I charge my batteries for ego existence. And what's mine, you see, just reinforces what? A deafness. I don't hear. How hard it is, Jesus says, for a rich person to enter the kingdom. What he means is they don't even hear the call. The rich young man, which he says is one more thing you can do. Sell everything and come follow me. The man turns away and Jesus was sad. I don't think God's angry. He's more saddened. That we can let personal things seem greater than a relationship with God. Yet we do it all the time. Humility.


Humility. Now, Benedict mentions a lot of virtues as ways of helping us in this presence to presence. But especially, and he's famous for this, mentioning perhaps the root virtue of humility. So I wanted to say a little bit about this. And that'll conclude this last presentation. Humility has a special place for him. And it's related to the fear of the Lord. Which simply means a mingling of awe and reverence and obedience and love and attention to God. As scriptures say, those who fear the Lord keep their hearts prepared and humble themselves in his presence. Humility is simply a correct and truthful way of regarding yourself. That's all it is. It's not putting on anything that you are not.


It's to be who I really am. Stripped of all the illusions, the persona, the outward projections, the roles, the accumulated possessions. To be humble is to be in touch with your basic poverty and dependence on God. Being humble is kind of like the relationship of the moon to the sun. We are a moon and God is the sun. And all our existence is catching light from another source. To the extent that we turn our backs on that source, we are not who we really are. So the key thing is keeping face to face, moon to sun. And then we are who we are. And who we are is always linked, isn't it, to the source. I would cease to be. Without humility, the moon tries to become its own sun.


Or it falls into the illusion that its light is being generated from itself. Now we would say, oh moon, how foolish you are. Any scientist, any school kid knows that that light comes from another source. But a human being constantly falls into this trap. And it's our activity that creates a kind of heat. You know, we burn calories. That gives us the impression we're generating power, you see, on our own steam. We're generating our own lighthouse. We're producing this radiant effect on the world around us. It's very, very alluring and tempting. Yet when in reality, I'm a moon. And so humility is not trying to be a sun, but being who I really am. And that's all. False humility is still secretly believing you're a sun,


but you'll pretend that you're a moon. You'll say to God, yes, I know I don't generate my own light. And you'll tell that to people, oh no, no, I can't do that, I'm too humble. I'm a nobody. But inside, you really believe you're a sun. That's what we mean by false humility. We seem to get in touch with this truth when we're brought down to the truth, to the reality by some circumstance in life. When we hit rock bottom. Some fall, a disaster, and God's presence comes breaking through the true source of who we are. As I shared with you in my reflection on Friday night, my own awakening to God's presence seemed to be made possible by my sense of weakness and powerless over sin in my life. Humility teaches me that I'm not God, and whatever my earthly accomplishments might be,


I remain basically the same. Totally dependent upon God's mercy. Merton, towards the end of his life, once defined God as mercy flowing upon mercy, flowing upon mercy, dot, [...] dot. The older I get, the more I realize that my own performance in life means little, while God's mercy is everything. Humility teaches us to look beyond ourselves. False humility keeps us focused on ourselves, indulging us in self-pity. It can be just as effective as pride in deafening us to God's presence. To be in prayerful relationship with God is to become like God,


who in Christ humbled God's self, taking on the weakness of human existence. This is the strange mystery. And even more, taking on the sins of the world in a horrible death. In Christ, God is humble. And obedient. God is obedient, is listening. And love is poured out, continuously upon the earth, creating, sustaining, permeating, embracing everything. That's the great mystery that Jesus revealed. How can God be humble? How can God be obedient? In attacking pride and the desire to move up in the world, Benedict suggests that we go downward. Contrary to the American dream of upward mobility, Benedict suggests downward mobility,


down the ladder of humility, which is really a going up. But it's the way to resurrection, is what he suggests. To what? Death. Death to the self-centeredness in us. To the death, to the deafness, the disobedience, so that in and with Christ we may be raised up by someone else. We don't raise ourselves up by God. And this is as a gift, an unmerited gift, as grace. Thus, to be humble is to be vulnerable, naked, exposed, without protection. The protection of pretense and self-sufficiency. Saying, I don't need God or you or anybody. To go through life and not start believing, I am my pretensions, is very difficult. That's the thing, you start to believe in your own pretensions, that this is me. To go through life thinking, I need these in order to survive


in this dog-eat-dog society, which we all do. I think it means paying a terrible price. The price of only finding God in church on a Sunday, or at night when I say my prayers before going to bed, rare moments in rare places. But most of the day, I'm in this dog-eat-dog world and I've got to defend myself. I've got to pretend to be someone else and I've got to believe in that pretense. I can't let go, they'll eat me up. I can't drop my guard. To find God everywhere, you cannot continue on that path. But if the Sunday is alright and at night, if that's alright for you, fine, then you can go that way. And so it's only when we realize this, that we come to understand the terrible price Jesus paid to be always present and vulnerable to God. In just as ruthless a society,


no wonder the early church saw in him the fulfillment of the suffering servant text of Isaiah. And if you have vigils, we read from that, I think that was the first psalm, the first solo psalm, where you hear it in the Gospels, they beat me and they tossed their heads and they divided my garments among themselves and they pierced my hands and my feet. Humility combines or holds in tension two realities. My weakness, my sinfulness, my need for repentance, my total dependence on God. That's one side of the reality and the other is my giftedness as a son or daughter of God, which brings joy, confidence, love, a longing for eternal life with God in God's new creation. To move too far in either direction of this tension,


this paradox, in order to seemingly resolve it, which our mind likes to resolve paradox, well, if I'm a sinner, I'm a sinner, now let me wallop it, thank you very much. And if I'm saved, let me just glory in that. And that's kind of a big thing this day and age, and a lot of people don't like to talk about sin. If I move to try to resolve it, the danger, if I move to the sinful part and forget the other half, is I will be given to despair. And despair is a form of self-centeredness, focusing on self. And if I try to resolve the other side, no, I'm a son of God, I should be happy and joyful all the time. I don't need, I repented once, that's it. That leads to prideful arrogance. According to the Bible, the classic experience of presence, the experience of presence that you can be sure is God in your life, is when you experience mercy.


Anything else, be very careful, could be hallucination, illusion. But the Bible does stress, if you experience mercy, that seems to be the preferred mode of encounter that God chooses with us. And I don't think you can experience God's mercy if you're in pride. It's usually when we are humbled that we have an encounter, and we call it mercy, because it's related, isn't it? The quality of the relationship is related to what I'm experiencing, that truth of myself, as unmeriting something. As Peter says, with a great catch of fish to Jesus, depart from me, Lord, I'm a sinner. He's aware, you see, of something in himself, and suddenly Jesus is mercy, divine mercy standing there. He's aware of that. God encounters us as mercy


when we claim who we are as poor and weak and lost without God. To find God always present to me and to respond in prayer, I must move beyond the illusion of self-sufficiency and autonomy, and the need to experience that presence as a feeling. I must grow in the awareness that my very existence, moment by moment, heartbeat by heartbeat, breath by breath, is handed to me as a gift by a presence that is closer to me than both my heartbeat and my breath. That is closer to me, the Bible says, than I am to myself. We've got to get a glimpse of that, that that's going on every second, just like I hang in the balance of existence and non-existence, every second. The mind does not like to think about that,


because it can't make plans, you see. And all plans for the Christian must be provisional. It doesn't mean we don't plan, but we cannot, that's escaping to the future, we cannot lose ourselves or find the meaning of life in the plans. That life hangs right in this moment, and God's creating me right now. But we tend to have the illusion, you know, I'm 44, well, 44 years ago He created me, and now, you know, He wound up the clock, and I'm going to the clock. No, that's a very static sense of creation. No, it's a constant dynamic. The Father loving the Son, the Son present to the Father, returning the love, which is the Spirit, and that's going on constantly creating the cosmos. It's constant. And you and me are part of this cosmic flow, this cosmic birth from God. Moment by...


I mean, it's amazing. Faith, therefore, is essential here, a faith that is constant, constantly expanding, embracing every moment of the day. In this kind of faith, I choose to believe in God's abiding presence, whether I feel it or not, or sense it or not, in that sense of experience. I stress this because a lot of people come here, a lot of people perhaps caught up in the New Age movement who are desperately searching, but they think they have to feel in order for it to be real. They have to sense in their senses. Well, naturally, they're going to be up and down constantly. God will seem present, then absent. That'll be the phenomenon. There'll be no constancy, no steadiness. In faith, we come to experience


God's abiding presence, but that experience does not require feelings or sensations, though it doesn't spurn them either when those come fine and wonderful. But you know what I'm saying, that's not the foundation. They can come and go and that's fine with me. In faith, you see, I intuit. I learn an intuition. I intuit God's apparently hidden presence and I respond with my own abiding presence. That's all prayer is. Then everything speaks to me of my beloved's nearness, not necessarily at the sensory level, but at the faith level, at the spiritually intuitive level. Dramatic encounters with God will come and go, but my relationship with God will not depend on these. It will have this basic foundation that's a constant in my life, which is faith.


As the end of the Gospel today at Mass, by your endurance you will gain your lives. By your constancy. But you can see, what do we base that constancy on? It's, do I believe in faith? No matter what the world seems to be falling apart around me in my own life, do I have a faith that believes, that I intuit God is with me, is present to me and to the world, however mess the world or my life is. And that's the constancy of my life. And so to summarize, prayerful presence to the presence of God in my life can only reach fullness and perfection in the presence of Jesus to the Father. And it's the Spirit that makes Jesus' presence available to me, accessible to me. Ways that I make this movement, Benedict suggests,


are by moving from this deafness, this disobedience, this willfulness in my life to a life of obedience, to willingness. And as we've been looking at, Benedict, the tools he uses are scripture and the Lectio approach to scripture, communal life, solitude and silence, the liturgy of the hours, the Eucharist, work and humility. The end of the rule, Benedict says, let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ and may he bring us all together to everlasting life. Thank you.


That's it. So any comments or questions as we come to the end of this retreat? I don't think my boss would like to know what you're going to say. I knew she was going to say something about work. So we've talked about that before. That's such a challenging area to know how to approach it. Because a lot of times you feel you're, do you have to play the game. Actually, I've had the experience where I've been able


to remain calm. I work in advertising and it's incredibly effective. And people have actually come up to me and said, it's amazing how everything is falling down and the class is screaming and you're very calm and you just keep doing the work. So it can happen and there can be a real difference. And I found that just the fact that you said, I'm the difference. My attitude, when my attitude changes, everything else around me seems to change. Well, I have to respond to that, too. Certainly. It happens to me, too. I've had people come most of the time. And they were also at work and I was able to say, well, you must have been smiling. Yeah, and as I said,


it doesn't mean we necessarily have to change what we're doing, but the way we do it. And that's going to be gradual, a gradual process. And I think if you have a rule of life in place and a good spiritual practice, and a way of praying that teaches you to let go, that's very important. You know, we can use prayer to inflate the ego as well. So it's very important we approach prayer or find a way of prayer that's constantly shrinking the ego to its proper size. I mean, we do need it. It provides us with the ability to function in life and God wants the ego. But God won't be kept by the ego. And that's what the ego wants to do. It wants to keep God as a little pet, you know, somewhere and bring God out when it wants God. And it's the other way around, you see, when John the Baptist says he must increase and I must decrease, that's a very powerful line for me of the reverse. Conversion is the reverse. That which is big and small has to go this way. But it's not the death


of the ego, but the shrinking of the ego feels like a death to the ego and the ego panics and says, what are you trying to do, kill me? But it's not going to be the death. It's going to just go back to what it really is, its proper size, and then it will serve the spiritual self, which is in union with God. And that's what Jesus is saying, you know, that he had an ego, he's using his ego, but somehow he has learned to make his only work as the Father's work. David. I just want to comment on a question on one. I'm a psychologist and I have a client who is quite afraid of my departure when I'm away on the weekend. And she's so alert to the world that she knows when I'm going without my ever having to announce it. So I have a kind of contract that I'll say that. And she makes a kind of act with me because she's very direct. And she says, well, it's good you're going to the monastery because I would like you better when you come back.


Which, of course, raises the question of what's wrong in the other times. But all of us, I think, as I hear comments, wrestle with two things. One is taking the monastic experience back into the world where it gradually dissipates and perverts itself into whatever it is that my client stopped liking about. And the other is a tendency on our parts, and I hear it in myself and others subtly, to idealize your life. And as I'm listening to Benedict's rule, this is where the question part comes in, there is a way in which it seems that in setting up the monastery he was setting up an isolated ideal that provided a kind of


problematic of dualism. These are the guys who are doing holy life right, and we're out here in the world rubbing around and doing it wrong. Coming, you know, oh, help me, Lord, and so on. Benedict must have understood this difference. Could you comment on how he saw what would be done in the monastery as beneficial to, and I'm imagining Italy and the world around, the ancient world, as well as today's world. How does, in one way, it's sort of the isolated ideal, but it's, of course, we're projecting that ideal onto you. You know that you deal with S-H-I-T-L-I-N-G. And help me understand what Benedict and you're all thinking about how to take it back. Sorry for the long hopping question.


Okay, see if I can give a spontaneous, I think a couple of things strike me. The first is that there probably is not as much of a difference between your life and our life as... I suspect that. You know, the bodily fluids still happen here, and crankiness still happen here, and boredom, and people wanting to be in control and building their little king, all the aspects of human nature. So we're not out of the world at all. The world is here. There's a saying that the monk who leaves the world comes into the monastery with the world inside, you know. So that's the first thing. They're not the same, but they're probably not as different as both sides imagine. The second thing, though, there is a difference, because this is a set-up, a situation set-up for the sake of this. The world out there is not set-up for that at all. Now, there may have been a Christian society, as I mentioned at the beginning of this talk,


with the early local parish community, that would have kind of affirmed more or less the same things, and maybe even worked in that neighborhood, and pretty much you'd be in this little Catholic ghetto, you know. Although that maybe exists in some places, but that's a fast-fading phenomenon. So that doesn't make this an unreal place. It still is a real place with real people and real things, and we need electricity and food and all those things. But it's a way of organizing our life, because we know how difficult it is to pursue this with any amount of intensity. And that's who monastics are. They're people who feel a calling, or feel compelled to live it in an intense, as intense and direct way as possible, which is not a statement about anybody else's way of living it. That's what they feel they must be true to themselves. So everything is organized. So naturally, when I think the laity come and visit and see that, that's what they see. They see, my goodness, if I could only organize my life, well, of course you can.


You can't organize the company unless you're the president. Maybe you might get away with that. But you're a part of many systems going on for making money or keeping this going, all kinds of reasons, and you have to kind of play in this field and yet try to provide some kind of structure for your life aimed at this. But there's no way you can enclose, you see, what we call enclosure. I think there may be some people that find some ways, creative ways, like, what's her name in her book Monks, Mystics, and Ordinary People. You read the cases. There are people who have managed to create their own support enclosure but not joining a monastery. And what some kind of tough things they had to do in order to do that. One would be never to work for somebody else. So to have sort of a home industry which gives you,


then you can weave it in to a life of prayer, moving out of a tract housing unit, maybe into rural areas. These are tough decisions they made. Their friends said, what are you doing? So it's interesting how some of them, and some of it was difficult, it meant having a lower income. They didn't take the best jobs, simplifying their life. So it's very fascinating to read that book and see what those people did. And they did not feel called to be in a monastery, but they recognized what a monastery does as important for their life. And then they had to say, well, how do I do this when I've got to have a job and I can't make money like they do in the monastery or support myself the same way they do? I think another thing, I can't remember, is it Virginia, Virginia, something, but it's for sale in the bookstore. Monks, Mystics, and Ordinary People. She has a second book out, too. I forget the name of that, but we have that as well. But it's valuable for that because she gives a lot of case studies that you might not find you can do the same thing, but to just see


that there are people who feel this contemplative call and want their life to be organized around this and how they can and how they have had to deal with that without entering the monastery. Now, historically, another thing I think you could say is that the phenomenon of once Benedict set this up, the fact that the monasteries became centers and people chose to live close to the monastery and they didn't enter, they still lived family life in that, but they began to recognize that this kind of altar society and altruistic society and I don't mean the altar altar, but like A-L-T-E-R, this other option is more sane and the one of society is insane. So they kind of opted to start with reading from it's interesting that the second reading from Mass today, from Paul's


second letter to the Thessalonians chapter three verses seven to five, so we'll begin with that reading. You know how you want to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We did not eat anyone's bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you we gave you this command, if anyone will not work let him not eat. For we hear


that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies not doing any work. Now, such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work and to do it in quietness and to earn their own living. Lord God, as we come to the end of this retreat and our last reflection together we pray that we might come to know ever more fully your presence in our work, in our doing, in the many activities that make up a human life. We also pray for the gift of true humility. All this we pray through Christ our Lord. Amen. Excuse me.


A rock in my throat. Okay. So as we move to the end of the retreat I think I'll have time to get to the humility but we'll start with work. And again, what we're looking at is how Benedict has organized the monastery and the rule for life in the monastery in order to promote presence to presence. Which is in the present. We talked about the need to redeem time, how we can escape presence into the past and the future and how to rather redeem the past and the future in order to be more fully present to that wondrous presence of all presences and the source of all presence, God. Now, Benedict legislates


in his rule for work and in fact it's not really in the rule but it came to be known as the kind of the cliché or expression of the Benedictine life ora et labora. You may have heard that and it's been depicted in art or whatever. Ora, prayer. Labora, work, labor. And that's basically the monastic life according to Benedict. You work and pray. Well, it's a bit more than that but at least it does show that work was and is a big part of the Benedictine monastic life because the monasteries as I mentioned before were out in the boonies, you know, out in the farmlands and they had to be self-contained units. And so the various artisans that would be brought in and the various shops and skills necessary for the monastery to be like its own town. In some ways you could say the monastery was like what today we might call a Mennonite community or probably an Orthodox


Quaker community that is attempting to live that early image and acts that we read at our last reflection. The community gathered around the apostles, listening to the scriptures and being taught, sharing everything in common, creating this kind of enclosed community to promote this, realizing how difficult it is if you're too dissipated and too diffused. It's just hard to grow in this focus in your life. I think in some ways parishes were meant to be this and probably were until modern times. They're far less so. There's far more of a diversity going on and rather than the center of some little neighborhood, which is what the early Catholic parishes were, now it just doesn't have that pull or that draw for people. So there's a lot of a diffusion and it's very hard to, if a person really wants to grow in that primary Christian focus


of their life, they can feel they're just having so many voices, so many things calling at them and pulling at them that it's very difficult for them. And so I'm sure one of the inspirations for Benedict was precisely this reading that I read from 2 Thessalonians. We do read in the rule about idleness, chapter 48, which is daily manual labor. Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brother should have specific periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading. It's interesting that he puts the two. Why even mention reading at all? Throughout the whole chapter he interweaves prayerful reading and work prayerfully and there's a reason for it. If you have been catching my drift through these talks, he's got this big picture in mind always and it's how work fits in to the big picture. How work fits in to prayerful reading


and how both of those fit in to this growing in presence to presence, which then means I become a prayer. I become part, I join myself to the presence of Christ before the Father as the perfect presence. And then he goes on legislating all kinds of things. And he says, They must not become distressed if local conditions or their poverty force them to do the harvesting themselves, not to be distressed by work. When they live by the labor of their hands as our fathers and apostles did, this is Paul, he's referring to Paul, then they are really monks. Rather an amazing statement that it's not only prayer but working by the labor of their hands that's part of the primary definition of a monk. And then he finally says in that paragraph, Yet all things are to be done with moderation on account of the faint-hearted.


So work is a part of life for all of us and for the monastery, but it's not to become an inn in itself. That's why he mentions the moderation. It has to be woven in. So he seems to mention, I think at a first reading, if you don't look at this in the broader context of the whole scheme of Benedict, you might think, Well, he just feels people shouldn't be idle. But what is idleness? Well, I think he says that idleness tends, then you tend to get bored or apathetic and you become a busybody, probably engaging in conversation that is not the most up-building conversation. Probably you end up talking about other people, noticing what's wrong with them or with the community, and a certain wastefulness. He talks about not wasting time. We know we're back to our time theme again,


because for Benedict, time is for one purpose only, presence to presence. And so work has something to do with presence to presence. It has a significant role. It's not just filling time, but it's part of the redemption of time. You've got to remember, too, the text that inspired him, 2 Thessalonians. Paul tells us, We hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. So he's responding to a problem, and commentators mention that most likely it's people who interpreted the second coming as imminent, any day now. Why work? Our resurrection and our new life is at hand. And so, people just being idle, it's going to happen any day. Why be busy harvesting? The second coming


is going to happen. And Paul adds a corrective to their understanding that whenever the end time comes and the second coming of Christ, we have a responsibility as a human being. And the way to prepare for the second coming of Christ and the way to wait for the second coming of Christ does not mean sitting around and not working and then being a burden to others who had to work to provide the food on the table. Because, I mean, if it's going to happen any day, why eat? But apparently they were still eating, so they realized why have to eat. So it's important to kind of keep that in mind because that also is important for Benedict. The second coming, also in a sense, the second coming that faces every person individually at their death is a second coming. So I think the role of work for Benedict is not just because the monks had to eat and be clothed


and housed, etc., though that certainly is a part of it. And they have to be responsible. That word, responsible, able to respond to presence. Work has something to do with our ability to respond to the presence in our life. Work is also important for Benedict for prayerful presence. Work teaches us to find God's presence and to be present to God in prayer while we are on the move. It's one thing to learn that presence when you're calm and still and try to put aside all what we might call distractions. That's a challenge enough, but then to be busy doing and be as attentive as you are in silence and stillness, that seems to be an even tougher thing for us. So finding God while in activity


is a real challenge. Yet for the one who seeks to join him or herself to the presence and prayer of Christ before the Father, it is very important. For most people, this is the hardest place to be prayerfully attuned to God. And I think that's because we approach work in a certain way. So much of our doing, our activity in life, is a means of affirming and expressing our ego identity, which is a very fragile reality. It's almost like a battery operated. You know, it's not rooted in some real source of power. And so the batteries are always running down, so we've got to do things to recharge the existence of this me that I think I am. And I'm trying to convince myself I am, and I'm trying to convince everybody else I am. And doing is a great way of plugging in the recharger. Now I feel like somebody. I just cleaned the church


and I got ten compliments. See, that's the temptation of work or doing. One feels a sense of accomplishment. Activity to do things also gives us control. I manipulated that vacuum cleaner as I cleaned the church. You see, I drove it around. And I might find I, when I'm in stillness trying to listen to God in prayer, I don't have much control there, but by God I can go and clean that church. I'll do it for love of you, Jesus. And so that's where I think the problem with activity is it lends itself to ego inflation because it requires action, and action requires a certain drivenness, a certain directedness of the person, a certain engagement with material things. Even if I'm working at a computer, I'm engaged


with that keyboard, with this thing, and my mastery over that thing to get the best out of it and to do my job well. And so I think that's part of the problem why it's hard to find God's presence in our work and activity because it lends itself too easily to an ego inflation, to being in control, to manipulation, rather than being an expression of our identity in Christ. Now it's interesting, Jesus in the New Testament often claims that he has absolutely no work to do other than the work of God. He describes God as working. Now we get a little deeper, don't we? But work is just not something we have to do because we have to get bread and earn our living, but work has something to do with God. The work of creation, because all of nature


is working all day long, I mean they start long before we do. The bees gathering honey, my hummingbirds, I mean I'm barely out of bed and they're at my hummingbird feeder and they're busy, busy, busy gathering and working. All of nature is working and nature is the creation of God, the expression of God. So it's amazing that we hear Jesus say he has no, absolutely no other work but the work of God. His doing, in some way or another, expresses his being in relationship, his being present to the presence and to the deepening, the ongoing deepening and developing of that relationship, which is what is prayer. What's going on between Jesus and his father. He's not building up his own personal kingdom, he says, but God's kingdom. He's not doing his own will, willfulness, he says, but the will of his father.


He is obedient, he's listening, he's not deft to his father, the scriptures tell us. Now just as we cannot truly pray except in the spirit of Jesus, I believe we cannot truly work except in the spirit of Jesus. Of course without the spirit I can say endless prayers, I can say endless words, I can sit in endless silence and I can do endless amounts of work, even good work, so don't misunderstand me, that's the illusion. I can do all of those things without the spirit and convince myself all is well. But my sitting in silence is not prayer and my words of prayers are not real prayer. It is not done in the spirit, that's the radicalness of the New Testament


and also the importance of discernment. But for the one who has awakened to God's presence in his or her life and is seeking that presence more and more, inevitably they will have to look at this large area of their lives called work or doing. In fact, most of our life is activity, is doing. Doing activity can be an expression of my true nature or it can be a camouflage, like the little boy or girl in the playground, the dirt playground, running in circles creating a lot of dust. Bod work. And how lost, no one can see them in the dust. It's a way of hiding. It's another fig leaf of Adam and Eve, hiding from the presence. But boy, I look like I'm present because I'm doing, I'm stirring up, I'm creating a stir of things.


Look at all the dust. One thinks of the typical Western movie where the bad guys and the good guys, and the good guys are coming to maybe rescue somebody or get the bad guys or the money they've stolen, but there's more bad guys than the good guys, and so the clever good guys, as they creep up on their hiding place, cut these large branches and get their lasso and drag them behind their horses, creating a lot of dust to create the illusion that there's more there than there really is. Our ego is doing that all the time through our activity. Benedict, very wisely, even though he says work's important, what does he do? He frustrates the monk. The monk just starts getting his engines going, pushing that vacuum clean and finally, finally feels that some area I'm in charge of here, and he interrupts it with prayer. When you hear the bell, stop.


Drop what you're doing. Don't even go on another second. Drop it. Disengage completely. That is hard. And pray. It's a test, isn't it, to see have you lost your real self in that work? Have you camouflaged your real self? One of the signs is how attached, how attached are you? When we're really in control and finally feeling that great power at our fingertips to suddenly drop it, can really teach us how I've been approaching the work, the activity. Recently, Brother Philip, he's the old monk in the wheelchair that you see brought to Mass, and he had some photos of a monastery that he had entered long ago as a Trappist. He was there, I think, five or six years in Georgia.


And quite a few of the photos have pictures of the monks all in their black work habits. They wore their habits, black ones, out in work, and they're all stopping, praying. Right where they are. Some holding the pitchfork right by the tractor. They're just stopping, old boots on. They're just stopping in their heads bowed. Really conveys what Benedict is trying to say. Don't escape from the presence in work, but find the presence in work. And the way to do that is don't give yourself to work. Horrors of horrors. Only God is worthy of you. But work, and work well. But you see how you have to approach it differently. Don't find yourself in work. Don't define yourself in work, but rather express yourself


and express God's presence in the workplace. Benedict even requires that each monk treat the tools and the other things of the monastery as they would treat the vessels of the altar, to convey the same idea. He wants the monk to learn to reverence God's presence everywhere, even in the task and the tools at hand. Now, if I work with a computer, say, it's not so much finding God in the computer itself, but finding God with me at the computer, around me and within me, or in the kitchen, or in the garden, or wherever I am. When I'm aware of God's presence within me and around me, my action changes by itself. I don't have to change the action. It starts to change. What we start to notice


is my activity becomes calmer, less pressured, though under pressure. I will refuse to take in that pressure and make it my own. Less of a burden, like I'm carrying the weight of the company on my shoulders or the weight of this task on my shoulders. Less dominated by control. I find I'm more detached. I can drop, I can stop, especially when what is being called for is to be present, present to another person. I have time to stop and smell the roses as the expression goes. To pray as we work is not so much to say prayers as I'm working, but to be aware of God's presence there and to allow the presence to affect me through the work, whatever it is. Thus the quantity of doing,


of activity, becomes less important than the quality of presence while I'm doing. And the quality does not necessarily mean perfectionistic. Be careful of that trap. That's an ego trait. You've heard the story of the disciple who was studying with the Master to be enlightened. Many students who had entered with him and since had been enlightened had left and gone on their own and he was still there at this little monastery shrine and hadn't received enlightenment yet. And he had been basically doing the same work for many, many years and that was sweeping. Well, one day he was sweeping and as often as happens he suddenly was enlightened, for no apparent reason at all. He dropped the broom and he ran to the Master and bowed and was all excited, and he said, Master, Master, Master, I've been enlightened. Of course the Master


was very calm and he says, What do I do now? What do I do now with my life? The Master, very calmly, said, Go back, pick up the broom and sweep for the first time. Rarely is the problem work in being present to God. Sometimes it might be, but rarely is it. More often than not the problem is us. We have all had the experience of doing something in one mood and experiencing it a certain way and then doing the very same thing but you're in a different mood and you experience the activity completely differently. And you can't figure out how is that possible? I used to hate doing this. Well, I still do at times. One thinks of the example of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux who says, To pick up a pin, very simple act of doing and work. But if you do it in love, for love of Christ,


it can change the world because then it's not your work. You've made it part of God's work. I remember we had a resident oblate living here, Charles Messier, and he was dying and I was one of the primary caregivers. We brought him in the same little cell with Brother Philip. It was just a year and a half ago. And he was not easy to care for. He was near the end and he was struggling and trying to have some control in his life and trying to control everybody else that worked around him and became more demanding as he became more uncomfortable and more pain in his life. And I had to sleep there, in fact, and it was not the most pleasant sleep because he would call out for you every hour on the hour, you know. You'd have this broken sleep. Talk about liturgy of the hours. So I was sleeping in this little cot and he'd call out, you know, Father, are you there? He was French-Canadian,


you know. So this one night he was calling out so I got up and he completely was incontinent and had messed up the bed. So I, by myself, I had to try to wash him and clean him and by this stage he was very rigid. It was very hard to roll him over and to move him. Very difficult to get him to move to one side and to change the bed with him in the bed. Fortunately, I have some hospital training so I've done that before. So I'm cleaning him and praying that he doesn't have the problem while I'm there again. So changing him, but it was not easy and he was demanding this and this and this and kind of just not being very appreciative. Then I finally covered him and get him to move to one side of the bed. I was just standing at a distance ready to go back to sleep hoping he would be quiet for the rest of the night and kind of begrudging, you know, why am I the one doing this and all of this stuff. He looks at me and he says, he said, Brother, come closer. Come closer to me


so that I can kiss the face of God. Suddenly I couldn't do enough for him. Same work, same S-H-I-T, same bodily fluids. He became aware of something, didn't he? And he called me into an awareness. And that's what often happens. We miss the presence there because we get caught up in the task and our own feelings and all of this stuff. And so he had tears in his eyes and I had tears in my eyes. I said, Wow. We're washing Brother Philip. Now I do that only, I'm on duty with him once a week and, although that time I think I used to have him three times a week and we have to wash him every day and I was washing, washing him, his body


and more of his midsection I was washing and not even looking at his face and suddenly I became aware that this was not Philip but Christ. Then I became aware it was my dad. Then I had the sensation it was my own body. And then it was back to Philip's body, all within the space of a second. It's how we do the work. You can approach it on one level and perhaps see it at its most superficial level. But to allow the nice, neat boundaries we set up when we approach life, to allow those to be, as somebody once called them, leaky margins and where Philip's body begins and ends and Christ's body begins and ends and my dad's body begins and ends and my body begins and ends is far more fluid than I think. And the more I'm attentive to presence that's what I find all of life doing, you see. Where Eucharist


begins and ends is not clear anymore. Where praying the Psalms begin and ends is not clear anymore. Where stillness and activity begin and end does not become clear or sharp anymore. But there's this interchange going on. And I think that's Benedict's point by interrupting work constantly and praying to teach us this interchange. In order to find God in work and activity we are the ones that have to change, not the activity. I think also Benedict saw the monk's life of work and prayer as reflecting the two natures of Christ. The human and the divine united in one person. Prayer as an expression of the spirit within us cannot be divorced from our humanity, our flesh and blood. The unity of the human and the divine in Jesus produces one whole person in an example of the unity


of doing and being still. Work and prayer. The work of God is the building of the kingdom which is a reign of relationships, not geographic territory. Our work must be united to God's work in some fashion. And I think that means paying attention to the relational dynamic of work and not the thingness of work. I think that's the key. Look for the relational element. Work doing is a great opportunity to exercise self-will over another, my underlings if I'm the boss, or over something as I push it around some object. And I think this is why it's hard to be obedient at work, to be listening for God's presence. We tend to turn God off.


We make God a silent partner back there. I'll come back to you at prayer time. And we turn on our own directed voice of control and management and organization. And I think Benedict Wisely knew this and so he has...