Draw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave BaabA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriending

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Benedictine Spirituality: Maureen’s story

Wednesday March 16 2016

Benedictine Spirituality: Maureen’s story

Maureen is 45 years old. She speaks at retreats, serves as a spiritual director for several individuals, and frequently teaches at her church.  Twice she has spent several days at a monastery.

It makes sense that I was around 40 when I first went to stay at a monastery. I was ready to explore God in new ways, not just through the mind. The time at the monastery helped me experience God in ways that were less cerebral, less focused on ideas about God, more focused on the ordinary stuff of life, the rhythms of work, play, and prayer. I experienced the rhythms of God’s care in everyday life.

On one of my trips to the monastery, someone I knew was there. It was the daughter of an old college friend of mine. I never expected to see her there. At the time, I was wrestling with mid-life issues. This young woman was the same age as her mother was when I knew her mother. Her presence there enabled me to confront aging in a way I wouldn’t otherwise have done.

When I go to a Benedictine abbey, I enter into something that is already happening. I don’t have to make it happen. The Scriptures in the prayer services are there for me without effort on my part, and there is often a connection between the Scriptures in the services and the issues God is speaking to me about. Often in my everyday life I feel guilty for not praying enough, but at the monastery it’s built in. There’s a real freedom to it.

The rhythm of the schedule at the monastery is comfortable for me in decompressing. It takes a while to get into the rhythm of the divine office – the prayer services – but I slowly begin to enter in.

The monks’ offer of extended hospitality is a true gift, allowing us to enter into a different pace and a different rhythm for a time, a rhythm based on God’s presence in everything.

It’s the pictures from the monastery that I hold on to. I can remember watching a monk mowing the grass in the middle of the track where I would run for exercise. He’s using one of those riding lawn mowers, and he goes slowly, stopping often to empty the container that holds the cut grass. He shows no hurry whatsoever. He works until the bell rings for prayer, and then he stops. He doesn’t work until the job is finished. It was such a contrast with the pace of my running. You really can’t get too compulsive about your work if you’re going to get interrupted over and over all day by the prayer services.

This is the last post in a series on Benedictine spirituality. I’ll conclude the series with a quotation from Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Todayby Elizabeth Canham:

Most of us are not called to the cloister, yet we find the practical common sense of St. Benedict and his commitment to finding the holy in the ordinary readily accessible to us. Even the three monastic vows, stability, conversion of life, obedience, translate readily to life in the world. All of us need an anchor, a place of inner security in the midst of a mobile, transitory world, but as we consent to stability, to being where we are instead of escaping into some temporary bolt-hole, we are called to conversion.

The earlier posts in this series about Benedictine spirituality were
     Embracing Structure
     John's Story    
     Who was Benedict?   
     Monastic living in ordinary life    
     The first vow, stability      
    
The second vow, conversion of life
     The third vow, obedience    
     Hospitality, service and work
     Balance and paradox

Excerpted from A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife (InterVarsity Press, 2002), copyright © Lynne Baab. The photo is Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, one of the several beautiful Benedictine monasteries where I have spent entered into monastic rhythms.

If you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.

For further reading:

Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

Timothy Fry, OSB, editor, The Rule of St. Benedict in English (Collegeville, Minn,: The Liturgical Press, 1981).

Elizabeth Canham, Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today (Nashville: Upper Room, 1999).

Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1989, 1997).

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996).

Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Grand Rapids: MI: Brazos Press, 2007).

Gifts of Freedom: The Sabbath and Fasting, article by Lynne Baab that draws on her monastery visits.

Benedictine spirituality: balance and paradox

Wednesday March 9 2016

Benedictine spirituality: balance and paradox

Esther de Waal, in her book Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, uses the language of paradox and contradiction to describe Benedict’s genius as he interprets the Gospel of Jesus Christ into everyday life. We are called to find God in this place and to seek the peace and discipline of stability, yet we are also called to grow and change and be willing to move. We are called to welcome strangers and accept them for who they are, yet we are not called to change our own priorities as we welcome them.

Many, including de Waal, use the word “balance” to describe the life patterns laid out by Benedict. We are called to prayer, work, study, and rest in fairly equal proportions. Each is important, but to overemphasize any one of them would be unhealthy. Benedict invites us to embrace the balance between community, where we live and work, and time alone for prayer and reflection. Benedict encourages us to engage in self-reflection without self-absorption and to strive for sincere repentance without dwelling excessively on our shortcomings.

Benedict calls us to a radical obedience that sees all of life as a response to God’s voice and God’s initiative, yet we are not encouraged to strain for that kind of obedience. In fact, Benedict encourages us to accept that we will fail as often as we succeed. We are called to believe that we have enough today, in this moment, while we also acknowledge that we are looking to heaven for our ultimate fulfillment. The grace of God overflows in every moment, in every place, and in every human life, and Benedict’s balance is firmly rooted in God’s character and God’s presence with us.

It is not surprising that so many people are finding joy and peace in visiting monasteries to pray and reflect on their lives. Many are choosing to be oblates, people who have made a commitment to be associated with a monastery without becoming monks or sisters. Benedict’s wisdom about a balanced life can give us restored perspective for our daily lives. His call to balance is particularly appropriate at midlife, when we realize we need to reevaluate all our scattered priorities and settle into a few disciplines that can serve us into the second half of life.

Those who are unable to visit a monastery may wonder how they can benefit from the Benedictine tradition. More churches and retreat centers are offering day-long prayer retreats, which can be a good way to start. An hour spent in an empty church on a weekday can provide a small taste of the silence and reflection that visitors to a monastery are able to experience.

The call to rhythm that is so much a part of monastic life can flow into our everyday lives if we are intentional. We can adopt habits of prayer that are connected to the events of our lives that happen every day. We can embrace the discipline of praying every day right after the kids leave for school, while we are waiting for the computer to boot up every morning, or when we get in the car to head home at the end of the day. We can read a psalm every night at bedtime.

As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate praying before meals and before bedtime. When I was younger, I viewed “saying grace” as a perfunctory, legalistic pattern of behavior. Because life has speeded up with each passing year, I can see more clearly that praying regularly requires disciple. Because I have grown in appreciating the riches that rhythms can give us, I am now deeply grateful for my husband’s commitment throughout our marriage to pray before meals and to have an extended time of prayer together on our Sabbath day.

We can also spend some time considering Benedict’s call to a life of prayer, work and rest with a balance of solitude and community. Benedict’s three vows – stability, conversion of life, and obedience – are very relevant for daily life. Any Bible study group or support group can use Benedict’s priorities as a structure for holding each other accountable. At midlife, in the swirl of seemingly endless activities, the balance inherent in Benedict’s priorities and vows can help us slow down and find the meaning and depth that we long for.

This is the ninth post in a series on Benedictine spirituality. The earlier posts were
     Embracing Structure
     John's Story    
     Who was Benedict?   
     Monastic living in ordinary life    
     The first vow, stability      
    
The second vow, conversion of life
     The third vow, obedience    
     Hospitality, service and work

Next week is the last post in this series, and it focuses on one woman's story of her experience with Benedictine spirituality. Excerpted from A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife (InterVarsity Press, 2002), copyright © Lynne Baab.

If you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.

For further reading:

Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

Timothy Fry, OSB, editor, The Rule of St. Benedict in English (Collegeville, Minn,: The Liturgical Press, 1981).

Elizabeth Canham, Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today (Nashville: Upper Room, 1999).

Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1989, 1997).

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996).

Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Grand Rapids: MI: Brazos Press, 2007).

Gifts of Freedom: The Sabbath and Fasting, article by Lynne Baab that draws on her monastery visits.

Benedictine spirituality: hospitality, service and work

Thursday March 3 2016

Benedictine spirituality: hospitality, service and work

As John pointed out in his story about visiting a Benedictine monastery, work and prayer are linked in monastic life in a compelling way. Benedict, with his very practical view of life, saw clearly that most people find it very difficult to pray all day long. Work is the best way to fill the time when not praying. And yet work is more than something to fill time or make money; work is the fruit of prayer, a sacrifice to God, and a way to make Christ known in the world.

How greatly this view of work differs from the view that predominates in Western culture! Our culture encourages us to believe that our value and worth lie in our work. We are urged by our culture to a kind of franticness about work; more is always better and it takes a concerted effort to push towards ever-increasing productivity.

Writing about monastic living in her book Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris notes that “in our culture, time can seem like an enemy: it chews us up and spits us out with appalling ease. But the monastic perspective welcomes time as a gift from God, and seeks to put it to good use rather than allowing us to be used up by it.”The peaceful attitude toward work described by so many when they visit monasteries flows out of the monastic sense of time: if God calls us to do something, there will be enough time to do it, because God is the Lord of time. This perspective feels like cool water in a desert land for those people at midlife who are overwhelmed, overworked, and just plain too busy.

Hospitality is one kind of work that most monasteries embrace. Benedict put a high value on hospitality, urging monks and sisters to view strangers as Christ himself coming to stay. Guests are to be received as they are and for who they are. There is no mandate to require guests to participate in any of the monastery’s activities. At the same time, there is no interruption of the monastery’s rhythm because of the presence of guests.

This style of exercising hospitality again demonstrates the kind of balance that Benedict taught: welcoming people just as they are, while continuing to exercise the personal and communal disciplines that God has set forth. I see a great challenge for my own life in this kind of hospitality. When I try to welcome people into my home or into my life, I often give up too much of myself and my own priorities in the process. I love the challenge of Benedictine hospitality that calls me to a kind of serenity as I open my life to others, all the while keeping hold of the disciplines and patterns God has called me to.

In recent years, many new books on hospitality have appeared, linking hospitality to Christian ministry. These books have helped many to realize how precious are our times with family and friends. In addition, as we realize that many of our blessings are not shared by others, we can grow in extending hospitality to those who cannot reciprocate. In the midst of frantic, overscheduled days, a commitment to hospitality can be difficult to embrace. Yet the simplicity of a conversation over a meal continues to be attractive and can help us connect with values that come from deep inside our hearts and souls.

This is the eighth post in a series on Benedictine spirituality. The earlier posts were
     Embracing Structure
     John's Story    
     Who was Benedict?   
     Monastic living in ordinary life    
     The first vow, stability      
    
The second vow, conversion of life
     The third vow, obedience    

Next week focuses on paradox and balance in Benedictine spirituality. Excerpted from A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife (InterVarsity Press, 2002), copyright © Lynne Baab.

If you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.

For further reading:

Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

Timothy Fry, OSB, editor, The Rule of St. Benedict in English (Collegeville, Minn,: The Liturgical Press, 1981).

Elizabeth Canham, Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today (Nashville: Upper Room, 1999).

Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1989, 1997).

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996).

Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Grand Rapids: MI: Brazos Press, 2007).

Gifts of Freedom: The Sabbath and Fasting, article by Lynne Baab that draws on her monastery visits.

Benedictine spirituality: the third vow, obedience

Thursday February 25 2016

We saw the significant role listening plays in fulfilling the vow of stability,Benedict's first vow: God calls us to listen to his voice in this place and in the midst of these commitments. In addition, we cannot embrace Benedict's second vow, conversion of life, without listening to God’s leading. Listening is also at the center of third vow, the vow of obedience.

We may think that a monk or a nun has a commitment to obedience that is totally different than ours because they are called to obey the instructions of the head of their monastery. What lies behind their obedience to the abbess or abbot is a very simple understanding of the call of all Christians to obey God.

Esther de Waal writes that that obedience is about listening, responding, and acting on what we hear. Obedience, she believes,

is no more than listening to God – and listening is after all the way in which the Rule opens. Listen is the very first word of the Rule: listening in its fullest sense, listening with every fibre of my being; listening in all the ways in which God is trying to reach me. This will not only be in words (though a dialogue with God through the scriptures, through daily reading, and particularly through the psalms, is very central to Benedictine life). But also listening through the people whose lives touch mine; through the things I touch and handle; through moments of grace. Do I really take this as seriously as I should? Do I not in fact so often take for granted God’s amazing generosity?

Elizabeth Canham also stresses the connection between listening and obedience: “The kind of listening Benedict calls for is a deep hearing that moves beyond understanding with the mind to a willingness for the heart to be moved. Because ear and heart are inextricably connected, obedience to God’s call follows.” She also observes, “We do not readily embrace obedience, and we often expend a great deal of energy in attempts to avoid doing what is required of us. Obedience is hard work (Saint Benedict calls it labor), for it demands of us a searching honesty about our willfulness and challenges our claims of independence.”

What does this kind of obedience look like in practice? It includes faithfulness to commitments and thankfulness for God’s generosity. It may involve hearing God’s call in small things, such as making a phone call to someone experiencing a loss or apologizing for something relatively trivial but potentially hurtful. Obedience may involve a significant life change, such as moving across the country to take a new job or caring for a relative in a costly way.

When we talk about obedience, we must be careful not to put too much emphasis on our own efforts to obey. We are being transformed into Christ’s image, and it is Christ in us – through the Holy Spirit – whowill enable us to obey. Listening to God for guidance, resting in the power of the Spirit, relying on God to help us obey as Christ did will all be essential as we strive to fulfill the vow of obedience.

For those of us who inhabit the twenty-first century, the vow of obedience may be the most foreign of the Benedictine vows. We can understand God’s call to stability, to look for God here in the midst of ourcommitments. We can understand God’s call to conversion of life because we generally embrace growth towards wholeness. But obedience calls for a kind of submission that may feel foreign to the “Me Generation”and to the generations that follow.

Esther de Waal points out that all three of Benedict’s vows help us to be human but also help us to orient our lives away from ourselves,

away from that subtle temptation of self-fascination and self-discovery. They challenge any spirituality from becoming yet one more expression of the contemporary obsession with the self, with self-awareness, with self-fulfilment. Instead they point me to Christ. Christ the Rock on which I build, Christ the Way I follow, Christ the Word I hear. If I am to put Christ at the center, as St. Benedict would have me to, that then displaces me from the centre.

De Waal goes on to say that even in the context of the Christian faith, we so often put ourselves at the center, focusing on our own obedience and faithfulness, how well we are serving God, whether or not we are being “good,” how much we are attempting to please God. If we truly begin to put Christ’s love at the center, then we can live in a receptive stance, ready to receive love as well as guidance about what to do.As we long for significance and meaning, Benedict’s priorities can help us see that true significance and meaning come from putting Christ at the center, rather than keeping ourselves there.

The Benedictine viewpoint sees listening and obedience as a part of an interplay between God and humans. This kind of obedience does not involve effort or strain on our part to be good or to do the right thing. Obedience flows out of communication and relationship. Even more significantly, obedience is the fruit of receiving God’s love.

 

This is the seventh post in a series on Benedictine spirituality. The earlier posts were
     Embracing Structure
     John's Story    
     Who was Benedict?   
     Monastic living in ordinary life    
     The first vow, stability      
    
The second vow, conversion of life 

Next week focuses on the role of hospitality, service and work in Benedictine spirituality. Excerpted from A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife (InterVarsity Press, 2002), copyright © Lynne Baab.

 

If you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.

For further reading:

Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

Timothy Fry, OSB, editor, The Rule of St. Benedict in English (Collegeville, Minn,: The Liturgical Press, 1981).

Elizabeth Canham, Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today (Nashville: Upper Room, 1999).

Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1989, 1997).

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996).

Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Grand Rapids: MI: Brazos Press, 2007).

Gifts of Freedom: The Sabbath and Fasting, article by Lynne Baab that draws on her monastery visits.

Benedictine spirituality: the second vow, conversion of life

Thursday February 18 2016

Benedictine spirituality: the second vow, conversion of life

Benedict’s second vow nicely balances his first vow, stability. We are called, according to the Rule, to embrace conversion of life. While we commit ourselves to look faithfully for God in the places and routines we are committed to (the vow of stability), we also must allow God to open us to change and growth (the vow of conversion of life).

We often use the word “conversion” to refer to the specific point when a person turns away from their former way of life and turns toward God. Benedict used it differently. Benedict saw “conversion” both as a moment in time when we turn towards God and also as a continual process of growth. He believed that movement toward God may begin with one turning, but it must continue with the many small choices of daily living.

Paul Wilkes defines conversion of life as “a continuing and unsparing assessment and reassessment of one’s self and what is important and valuable in life.” Benedict, Wilkes writes, “saw conversion as a continuing process, one punctuated with more failures than successes.”

Conversion of life involves listening to the people around us and truly hearing what they see in us that needs changing. Conversion of life includes embracing conflict as a way in which God teaches us about the parts of ourselves that need to be changed. It involves honestly facing our own faults that hurt others, and constantly turning to God for healing and forgiveness.

Esther de Waal, inLiving with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, affirms the value of Benedict’s “very simple message that we all need to hear: being committed to God is not about being nice. It is about being real.” Conversion of life calls us to rigorous self-honesty, which involves a humility and openness that listens hard to the people around us as they help us see ourselves more clearly. The same humility and openness enables us to listen to God.

De Waal points out the amazing balance in Benedictine spirituality between time in community and time spent alone. Monks and sisters in most orders work and worship in community, yet also spend time each day in the discipline of meditation on scripture. The daily prayer services also provide a healthy balance of communal prayer and time to reflect. The services involve the singing and reading of lots of Scripture, particularly the Psalms. The repetition of Psalms, week in and week out, provides a rhythm that allows for personal reflection during the daily services. The variety of emotions presented in the Psalms also encourages personal honesty.

Several writers on Benedictine spirituality liken the repetition of the psalms in the liturgy of the hours to the waves on a beach, a constant background rhythm that encourages people to go deeper inside their own thoughts, bathed in the presence of God. Conversion of life is simply not possible without reflection and prayer.

Being open to inward repentance, growth and change while being faithful in this place with these people  . . . that’s the balance provided by the partner vows of stability and conversion of life. Many busy Christians articulate that same challenge, perhaps using different words, but facing the same issues: “How can I grow and develop as a person in the midst of all the commitments of my life? I’ve got a house, a family, a job, a dog, a garden, and aging parents. Yet I want to go deeper in my faith. I want to find more meaning and significance in my faith. Can I do that?” Benedict would answer, “Yes, you can.”

In order to experience conversion of life, we must first believe that God desires that we grow and develop throughout our life, in all stages, even if we feel inundated with responsibilities and commitments. We must take place sufficient emphasis on conversion of life to make time for at least some of the aspects of the balanced life that Benedict recommends: prayer, work, study, and rest. We must understand that growth will certainly be challenging and may even be painful. We will have to let go of our culture’s emphasis that everything should be easy. Aswe long for meaning, we will have to understand that it doesn’t come without some degree of discipline. Benedict’s third vow, obedience, helps us understand some of the discipline required.

 

This is the sixth post in a series on Benedictine spirituality. The earlier posts were
     Embracing Structure
     John's Story    
     Who was Benedict?   
     Monastic living in ordinary life    
     The first vow, stability

Next week focuses on the third vow in Benedict's Rule: obedience. Excerpted from A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife (InterVarsity Press, 2002), copyright © Lynne Baab.

 

If you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.

For further reading:

Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

Timothy Fry, OSB, editor, The Rule of St. Benedict in English (Collegeville, Minn,: The Liturgical Press, 1981).

Elizabeth Canham, Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today (Nashville: Upper Room, 1999).

Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1989, 1997).

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996).

Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Grand Rapids: MI: Brazos Press, 2007).

Gifts of Freedom: The Sabbath and Fasting, article by Lynne Baab that draws on her monastery visits.

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