Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Benedictine Stability

We were poor. Not the grinding kind of poverty experienced by Native Americans on reservations or the instability that grips urban slums or third world countries. But it doesn’t take any stretching of the imagination to see that we were some of the poorer in our community. The small farm was very resourceful though. We may have never had a lot of money for luxuries, but we always had enough to eat.

Reflecting on those earlier times, I have to say that those years, centered in animal husbandry and the agricultural seasons, were some of the most stable years of my life. Time was oriented around the seasons of the natural year. There was a lot of hard, hot work in the summer, firewood cutting in the winter, and an occasional scramble before an approaching storm.

It has taken decades, and more lately the help of Benedictine ideals, for me to see and begin to understand the psychological effects of the stability that I experienced in the environment I grew up in - something that was soon traded for its antithesis.

In my teens I traded a stable environment for the instability of the 60’s revolution. Then, in the military in the 70’s, I was never in one place very long. The years that I spent in pastoral ministry were characterized by frequent moves. I’ve spent most of my life on the move, headed down the road, starting over again and again.

My surroundings were always changing. People in my life were always changing. Deep roots and relational strong ties were both impractical and impossible. With places and people always changing, I soon developed a fear of growing attached. Instability, too, has its own set of psychological effects, effects in my own life that I am only now honestly beginning to understand.

Benedict’s spiritual economy, one that chimes with structure and order, offers an effective remedy that holds antithesis at bay. To profess or promise to live by Benedictine standards is far more than simply accepting the rules of a club. “It is, above all, an act of self-dedication to God, made out of love since, as St. Benedict tells us (Chapter 5), it is love that impels the monk to pursue everlasting life.”[1]

I felt the significant importance at the time but I must admit that I really didn’t understand the fullness of it. It’s an understanding that I’m still trying to grasp but my awareness of it is much more fleshed out today than it was when, on the altar before the Tabernacle, I signed my First Promise as an Oblate at St. Bernard’s.

“The monk, after making his promise, draws up a written document and places this on the altar. When we celebrate the Mass, gifts of bread and wine are placed on the altar. These gifts are received by the Church and will be used exclusively for the honor and glory of God, as they are destined to become the Body and Blood of Christ. Like the bread and the wine, the monk’s document is placed on the altar. It becomes a symbol of the monk’s self-giving to the Lord. Monks, through making their profession, are totally dedicated to the honor and glory of God, and to his service.”[2]

[1] Benedictine Handbook, p. 124
[2] ibid