Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Balanced Life through Benedictine Eyes

This talk was presented by Father Peter and Brother Michael from the Holy Cross Monastery in Beaumont, Texas, on June 12, 2009, for the Community of Hope International Annual Conference. I am meshing my reactions with their comments.—Laurie Fowler

Brother Michael first read what he called an urban parable—a story of a man playing beautiful music during the morning commute in the metro Washington, DC, area and getting essentially no response from anyone. This story about Joshua Bell illustrates how busy we really are as 21st century citizens. Apparently that we are too busy with work, commuting, and cell phones to notice one of the best musicians of our time giving free concert? I immediately thought, not me, I would have noticed how beautiful the music was, but as Brother Michael and Father Peter continued their talk, I wondered, would I have noticed? On some days, I would bet not.

The point of this story as an introduction was that we can't afford to miss what is going on around us. We need to find time to be still and quiet, to find the time to be Benedictine, to create for ourselves a spiritual discipline. These questions asked gently but urgently made start to ponder these questions of my own—does my Rule of Life work? What choices am I making when I don't get to things on my daily "to do" list? I definitely need to be more intentional about being Benedictine and be ready to see and hear the unexpected where I least expect it.
There are four parts to a balanced life from the Benedictine perspective. They are prayer, study, work, and leisure. Prayer and study are very closely linked and are about developing an awareness and seeking God and following Christ. We are called as Benedictines and as members of the Community of Hope to be transformed by God in Christ. The opus dei or "the whole work of god", also known as our liturgy, allows us ample time throughout the day and week to pray and to include it as part of our balanced approach to life. It is hard work to be faithful to the daily office readings. There will inevitably be those days when you are too tired or too distracted to think it is doing you much good, but those are the times you need the discipline the most. It is okay that sometimes during prayers or the daily office that we do not make the "aha" connection to God. It won't happen every time, but as we put ourselves into a schedule to allow for this time with God, there will be more and more times that God will find ways to speak to our hearts and minds. A final thought on prayer—Daily prayer is the calisthenics of the soul so that we can be prepared to meet God in our world.

In addition to the prayers and services from the prayer book, there is study. For Benedictines, this study is called lectio divina or "holy reading". This means that we read a passage of scripture through three times and focus on what seems meaningful to us. It is actually a process that has four steps and these steps may take up to 30 minutes to an hour so it is not a discipline that we can cram into some available moment we find in our day. No, lectio divina is best when it is planned for and time is made for it as a critical part of our daily study. I find that I am able to do this best with passages from the gospels or from Psalms. In addition to lectio divina, we should find study that will help us improve our ministry. For example, we should learn more about aging and spirituality if we find ourselves caring for seniors, we should learn more about cancer care and treatment if our ministry is on the oncology floor of a hospital, or we should read Same Kind of Different as Me and Take This Bread if we are planning a food ministry.

Besides prayer and study, there is work that is necessary to bring us into a balanced life. Work, in the Benedictine sense, is that which gives us meaning and contributes to the community. We must do the work we have been given to do in the community in which we live. Do we do work that is meaningful? Certainly as members of the Community of Hope, we do, but what about the rest of our lives? I will think about this as I see if my next job can also lead me to my true vocation.

Finally, there is leisure. Ah, leisure. Sounds nice, doesn't it? There are really two kinds of leisure at least in Benedictine terms. The first is our American idea of leisure—time off from your responsibilities, vacation, relaxation time, respite from the world. For this kind of leisure, Benedictines have feast days on which they are given time off from responsibilities and a chance to rest. But do we really have this kind of leisure in America? How many of us checked our phones, email, and other messages during the COHI Conference? Were these contacts necessary for business or for us to feel needed? As citizens of the 21st century, we are indeed a people who seem to have trouble enjoying leisure at all.

In addition to this version of leisure, there is holy leisure. In the spirit of the Benedictines, holy leisure is that which allows us to take stock of ourselves. It is the examen or critique of our lives. What have we done? What have we left undone? How can we adjust the parts of our lives to bring them back into balance? If we never stop long enough to reflect on where we have been and where we are, we miss many opportunities to grow and blossom.

Grace and beauty are God-events in our lives. Will we be too busy to see them and acknowledge them? Can you live today focused on the present moment? How refreshing those first drops of summer rain are? How painfully blue the summer sky is? How the wind sounds right before a thunderstorm? How that fresh tomato bursts with flavor on your tongue?

We must be ruthless in our showing up for God so that the Holy Spirit can do its work within us. So go and be fully alive. Reach the potential for which we were created. Amen.

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