I recently taught a hybrid course on Benedictine Spirituality for laypeople and deacons. After a month of reading and discussion online, the students came to campus for a week, and entered into coursework which included a lived experience of monastic prayer, work, and community life. I was moved by how deeply they engaged the wisdom of The Rule of St. Benedict, and was reminded again of some of the great gifts of the monastic tradition for the wider Church.
- Basic Gospel Stuff: Love God, love your neighbor. Follow the commandments of Scripture. Attend to how Christ is present in each person, no matter how outwardly lovable or difficult he or she might seem.
- The Value of Humility: Most spiritual growth in love comes when we stop seeing ourselves as the center of the world. It helps if we can perceive our own dignity as being no more and no less than a child of God. Well-earthed Christians know that we are not God. Humility also invites us to see the equal dignity of others.
- The Challenge of Common Ownership: Especially in the United States, our stuff tends to own us rather than us owning it, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When we steward well the goods entrusted to us, we have a respect for what is sufficient. This then frees us attend more to the needs of others, with a generous spirit.
- Prayer as the Heart of Life: Monastic life pulses with a rhythm of prayer and work. A regular practice of prayer keeps us accountable to God, to each other, and to ourselves. Whether done in common, in the secret of our room, or quietly while we work, prayer keeps us remembering God, the real source of our life.
- Listening in Obedience: We all obey something or someone. We listen and respond. Monastic tradition invites us to listen for the voice of God coming through those with authority over us, through our neighbor in need, and through the unexpected guest or interruption. When we can respond willingly and with love, virtue flourishes.
- The Value of Discipline: As with any kind of athletic training, ascetic practices geared toward spiritual growth may not feel fun or easy at the beginning. With discipline over time, though, the path gets easier. Have faith. Don’t quit. Joy awaits.
- Honor Your Commitments: The vow of stability challenges monastic men and women to stay put and deal with life even when it gets hard, even when it’s tempting to leave and go where the grass is greener. When we sink our roots deep, the rest of us grows. When we cannot change the world around us, we are forced to be converted ourselves.
While the monastic context provides a rich space to practice these values, they really are Christian values that can be lived in a broader arena. It is perhaps worth pondering these days that the building blocks of healthy community really are not terribly complicated.