Sunday, April 6, 2008

Unconverted Regions

The fourth chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict concerns what Benedict refers to as tools of the spiritual craft. “If we employ them unceasingly day and night, and return them on the Day of Judgment, our compensation from the Lord will be that wage He has promised: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, what God has prepared for those who love him.’”[1]

The preceding verses of this chapter contain no small list of tools or tasks that Benedict sees as borrowed items in our care that must one eventual day be returned to their owner. There are seventy two tools that he names, tools that are to be utilized in the life of every follower of St. Benedict. Although Benedict wrote the Rule with cloistered monks in mind, the tools that he lists for monks to employ inside the monastery are equally as valuable and applicable for Oblates of St. Benedict living in the world. They apply to every follower of Christ whether members of an Order or not.

I am reminded, when I read this chapter in the Rule, of how easy it is to fall into the trap of haphazardly or carelessly living the Christian life. It’s easy to take Christianity for granted when we are surrounded by such a sublime and false sense of peace afforded us by life in our ease filled Western culture. It’s easy to lose our focus, our pin point accuracy, in living as those in the world but not of it especially when so much of our life revolves around doing what we must in order to make mortgage payments and live with some degree or modicum of comfort where quantity in life is too often equated with quality of life.

Benedict reminds us that Christianity isn’t something to be lived by chance. It isn’t what we do when we aren’t doing everything else that’s considered normal life. It is a course that we must travel, a journey that requires careful navigation. It is who we are at the center of our being. It is who the center of our too often neglected being is created to be.

In her commentary Esther de Waal reminds us that “This is not a list of virtues to be nourished and vices to be eradicated, a simple ethical code to be followed, but rather a challenge to the process of discernment as the prerequisite of the life that he is encouraging me to follow. Once again his concern is not with externals, but with interiority.”[2]

None of us will ever be converted simply by following a set of prescribed dogmas or precepts. Not that dogmas and precepts aren’t important. They are substantive and essential. Conversion however is a matter of the heart. It is much deeper than adhering to sets of prescribed principles. It involves an interior disposition that lends itself to discernment, accepts the truths that arise through discernment, and implements these as a manner of life. “If I am to grow into a whole and free person then there must be a harmonious relationship between the inner and the outer. Without it there comes that crippling disunity within myself that will lead to ill-health, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual.”[3]

The list presented by Benedict is a good list. It gives us something to look at, something to use as a measuring stick. It helps us to see what we are doing right. It helps us see what we are neglecting. Where our hearts are truly converted we have no problem with items on the list. It is the unconverted parts of our heart, the unconverted regions of our interiority, that buck and have problems with items on this list. It’s these unconverted regions that cause us to argue with points of direction being given us.

[1] RB 4:75-77
[2] A Life Giving Way, p. 36
[3] ibid, p. 37