Thursday, June 12, 2008

Joy Through Humility

There is quite a varied history that goes along with the Rule of St. Benedict and those attracted to it over the course of its history. Some have taken it more literally. Some have taken it a little more loosely. It’s important to understand the history associated with the Rule, to read the Rule in its overall context, and to understand the intentions engrained in it by St. Benedict.

He’s not interested in creating emotionless, somber stoics devoid of joy. He’s interested in developing spiritual balance in the lives of his followers. He does realize though how easily one can venture aside, how easy it is to let go of greater, higher ideals, how easy it is to opt for or succumb to lesser standards that hold the potential to do harm. It should come as no surprise, then, that Benedict holds us to a higher standard than most people are accustomed to.

There are two words that come to mind when I read Benedict’s counsel in the tenth step[1] - moderation and sobriety – and I’m taken back to something said earlier in the Rule. “Do not love immoderate or boisterous laughter.”[2]

Dom Adalbert, Cistercian monk and scholar, reminds us that true joy consists in being mindful of God.[3] True joy is mindfully realized as fruit born in our lives through the Spirit working his will in us.[4] It’s more than interesting, in the Apostle’s listing of these nine sections of the one Fruit of the Spirit, to find joy sandwiched between love and peace. Although true joy becomes evident in our lives, often readily observed by others as we experience its presence, it is yet something that is difficult to describe in human language.[5]

Achieving the spiritual balance of humility in our lives, particularly in such an unbalanced world, is not an easy proposition. It requires constant attention. It requires constant dedication and single-mindedness. It makes us ask the important and difficult “why” questions of ourselves. We realize the necessity to listen[6] to sources outside ourselves and to directions that arise from the depths of silence being cultivated within us.

Esther de Waal, having studied and endeavored to live according to the Rule for quite a length of time, says, “I have an enormous amount to learn along the way in my journey of discipleship, and I need to learn it from others. If I talk too much, then I cannot hear. If I laugh too readily, make the clever and witty comment to turn something into a joke, then I can dismiss what I may not want to hear, or fail to take it seriously.”[7]

[1] RB 7:59
[2] RB 4:54
[3] Adalbert de Vogue’, Reading St. Benedict, p. 93
[4] Gal. 5:22-24
[5] 1 Peter 1:8
[6] Prologue 1
[7] Esther de Waal, A Life Giving Way, p. 66