Tuesday, August 12, 2008


“The wealth of a place is not to be reckoned by its market value at some given moment. Its real wealth is not just its present value, but its potential value as it continues through time; and therefore its wealth is not finally reckonable at all, for we do not know how long the world, or our species, will last.”[1]

I mentioned in a meeting this past weekend that I am an Oblate of St. Benedict. Later, in a conversation with a Christian brother who lives in a neighboring town, he mentioned that he had read the Rule and thought Benedict’s way of life was a demanding one. I can’t argue against his conclusion. It is demanding. It’s demanding because it calls us to consider a lot about ourselves. It’s demanding because it calls us to levels of personal recognition and surrender that are otherwise easily avoided as we pick and choose our way through life.

One of the conclusions that I’ve arrived at over the past decade is that I need the challenges that confront me in monastic spirituality. They are constant. They don’t change. They are built solidly upon the bedrock of Christ and his teachings in the Scriptures. Benedict quotes the Scriptures no less than 131 times in his “little rule for beginners” and brings to modern minds a historic model and understanding of basic Christianity being lived out daily through prayer and work in community with others – principles that are applicable in every circumstance and situation of life. Transformation becomes a greater possibility in community. We have the opportunity to experience something life changing, personal change that God will use as a tool to encourage transformation in the lives of others.[2]

Transformation is a holy process. Most of the time, although there are occasions when we experience emotional acknowledgements of God’s divine activity in our lives, this process simply, slowly unfolds as we yield ourselves in faithful, humble obedience. The changes that we often perceive as immediate are really the ripple effects of long seasons of gentle, quiet tillage and tutelage, the divine process working to bring us to greater levels of spiritual maturity.

This is the conversatio morum, the continual conversion that Benedictine spirituality calls us to. This is really the point of it all. This is the direction we are headed toward when we first knock at the door of the monastery. This is the direction that all subsequent monastic spiritual direction should keep us moving toward once we’ve knocked. The direction is itself a destination though it is never fully realized, one that is altogether graspable but never totally attainable[3] as long as our own mortality is one of life’s variables.

To read the Rule and miss this important point sets us up for a lot of misguided rule-keeping drudgery, not that keeping the rules isn’t important. Wholesome community - healthy society – isn’t likely to long exist without guidelines. But rules don’t create community. Transformed lives create community. Although my own process of transformation is certainly of benefit to me both temporally and eternally, it’s not solely for me. To think of it in such small terms is to cheapen its value. My own transformation affects not only me but also the greater community where its value cannot be measured until it is recounted in eternity. What will my life then measure? That’s a scary question.
[Photo: Daylilies in bloom at Homestead Hermitage and Gardens]

[1] Wendell Berry, The Unforeseen Wilderness, p.16
[2] Proverbs 27:17
[3] Philippians 3:12-16