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Lent When You Need It

The holiest three days of the Christian faith is mere hours away. The Triduum (Maundy Thursday [Holy Thursday], Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) brings to a close the Lenten Season.  As a reminder, Lent is the time to repent (ask for forgiveness and change behaviors), to return to the Lord, and to make a new beginning once again.  Should not the life of any Christian ought to bear the characteristics of Lent?

In the Lenten Season more than in any other we try to be realistic about who we are.  We acknowledge our imperfections.  We make a special effort to turn our lives around and let go of unhealthy behaviors.  We take extra time to deepen our relationship with God through a spiritual discipline or through acts of charity.  We become more serious about who we are as Christians, so practicing a daily Lenten-type discipline would hone our ability to follow the Lord and to take steps that would allow him to be the center of our life.

Benedict suggests that during Lent we go above and beyond what we normally do for our spiritual disciplines by adding prayers to our normal routine and by denying ourselves some food, drink, sleep, and unnecessary talking or joking around.  This becomes our joyful offering to God (RB 49:1-7).  In the Episcopal Ash Wednesday liturgy, each of us are invited into a holy Lent with these words:

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word (p. 265, 1979 Book of Common Prayer).

Fasting

Fasting is an appropriate Lenten discipline that involves denying oneself a favorite snack food or beverage, unnecessary naps, or sleep, excessive talking or indulging in any behavior for pure enjoyment. (RB 49.7).  Fasting is not denying yourself anything that will create a health crisis or spark an unhealthy habit. 

For example, we might be able to forgo hitting the snooze alarm and use that time for prayer or to prepare a special breakfast for the family.  We might choose to use this extra time to be gentler with ourselves and start each day at a slower pace.  We could also reflect on our habits of speech or on our actions to determine if there is anything from which we could fast.  Perhaps talking negatively about others; interrupting others or grumbling. This spiritual practice of fasting will help us look forward to Easter with joy and spiritual longing (RB 49.7).  Our physical disciplines become spiritual offerings. 

Fasting, therefore, is a gift to God, a free-will offering over and above what we normally do (RB 49.6).  By denying ourselves something we would normally want or do, we exercise the muscles of patience and forbearance as well as hone our spiritual stamina.  All these fasting practices will help us be strong enough spiritually to work through whatever life deals us.  Lastly, fasting can be a time to identify with those in the world whose life is a constant, and unchosen fast.  Our hunger or abstinence from certain behaviors can serve as reminders of the needs of so many in our communities.

Fasting can become a yearlong practice on certain days of the week or in certain weeks of the month.  We might consider fasting when God seems distant or when we are facing a particular challenge.

Holy Reading

In Lent Benedict adds an extra hour each day for holy reading (RB 48.14), making a total of three hours each morning.  Benedict is serious about this discipline of prayerful reading and study.  Benedict was sincerely concerned about the souls of his brothers and wanted to see that everything was done to help them take time with the Lord to benefit this life and the next.  Holy reading is not only Scripture, but anything that feeds your soul, that helps focus your heart and habits to be more focused on the Divine.  Personally, my reading tastes shift from theology to world religions, to poetry.  There is no magic formula for the book topics or the authors.

Resisting Evil

While the Lenten disciplines are described in the Rule are a special practice in response to our sinfulness, the Rule also offers other ways to live a holy life by resisting evil.  The vows of stability, obedience, the Benedictine practice of hospitality, and the focus of living well in community are all tools we can use in our ongoing battle to resist evil.  Benedictine spirituality does not shut us off from the world and its many temptations and distractions.  Instead, it helps us meet these while we retain a spiritual center in the Divine.  Prayer – our own and that of others – can help us keep our center.

Ideas for Lenten Practices

               Read a Gospel

Holy Reading

During Lent the Rule instructs each person to have additional time for reading (RB 48:14) and prayer (RB 49.5).  As you read and pray with Scripture, you are formed and transformed on both a conscious and an unconscious level.  The words reach up to your mind and affect your thoughts and actions.  The words reach down into your soul and permeate your very being in hidden ways that will transform your heart.

               Read a Spiritual Book

               There are many wonderful and inspiring books on spirituality, the Christian life, and prayer.  I          have specifically included references to various authors and books throughout this series to help expand your library based on your personal interest.  I have also included additional suggestions at the end of this segment, or you can ask your clergy, check libraries, and bookstores, or ask         friends who share your faith outlook.

Fasting

               Give Up a Sin

               “Weed out” those things about ourselves that get in the way of our relationship with the Divine,       others, and even with ourselves.  What could be given up that would make us more energized            and joyful?  What most gets in the way of our relationships with others?  This behavior that gets in the way of relationships with others also gets in the way with our relationships with the                Divine and therefore, compromises our relationships with ourselves, for it blocks not only peace                but also freedom of action with a greater power.  What sin blocks me most?  Now give it up.                 Cleanse your heart and mind.  Then when we find ourselves falling into the old pattern simply   and gently remind ourselves that we gave that up.  And move on.

Prayer

               Replace Complaining with Prayer

               One of the most damaging things we can do to ourselves and others is murmur or complain      about another person, whether silently or out loud.  Benedict is adamant against grumbling and        complaining:

First and foremost, there must be no word or sign of the evil of grumbling, no manifestation of it for any reason at all (RB 34.6).

               Grumbling and complaining in our hearts separates us from others.  Murmuring puts a chink in           the links that connect us to each other and to the Divine.  It simply is not constructive and                destroys communities.  Simply replace grumbling and complaints with the words, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  By saying this phrase whenever we catch ourselves grumbling           or complaining, we can stop and make s space for the Divine.

               Devote Yourself to Prayer

               To expand the time for prayer and to experience different types of prayer, simply add 10-15              minutes of prayer each day.  Try a method of prayer that you may not normally use.

10 Different Prayers in the Bible

https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/types-of-prayers-we-see-in-the-bible.html

1. Prayer of Adoration

This type of prayer is focused on worshiping the Lord out of deep love, respect, and admiration. These prayers come from a place of genuine awe of who the Lord is and all that he does.

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;      his splendor is above the earth and the heavens” (Psalm 148:13).

2. Prayer of Thanksgiving

For some, beginning each day with a prayer of thanksgiving is a habit they practice. Prayers of gratitude are prompted by an answered prayer, deliverance, recognition of how good and merciful God is, or simply because we have been given another day of life.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Cry out, ‘Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise’”    (1 Chronicles 16:34-35).

3. Prayer of Confession

Confessing our sins is a significant way to pray as followers of Jesus. Often, Jesus called those he interacted with to confess their sins and sin no more. In the Bible, we get a glimpse of confession prayers and many reminders that God forgives those who confess their sins.

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

4. Prayer of Vows

Praying a promise to the Lord is a prayer that we may pray when we are making a life-changing commitment that we need God’s strength, guidance, and help to fulfill. Perhaps we vow to the Lord never to drink alcohol, or to abstain from premarital sex, or to live in a certain righteous way that is pleasing to the Lord. A pledge to God, just as we see in Hannah’s vow, should be followed through, and made with great consideration and certainty.

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head’” (1 Samuel 1:10-11).

5. Prayer of Quiet Reflection

Prayers of silence draw us away from prayers filled with words, and into a place where we quiet ourselves down and reflect. These types of silent prayers provide us needed time to reflect on God’s goodness. This type of prayer is valuable to how we learn to hear from the Lord and allow him to guide our steps.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6).

6. Prayer for Healing

A prayer for healing is usually spoken when we seek restoration for our physical bodies, spiritual wholeness, or emotional wounds. A key component of Jesus’ earthly ministry was healing those who were physically ill. The Bible affirms that we can come to God asking for all types of healing.

“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise” (Jeremiah 17:14).

7. Prayer for Deliverance and Help

When we are facing challenges, hardships, or oppression, we find ourselves praying for deliverance and breakthrough. We say these prayers for help because God is the one who can aid us in ways no one else ever could. In the Bible, many followers of God cried out for his intervention in this type of prayer for help and deliverance.

“Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (Psalm 107:6).

8. Prayer of Intercession

Praying for others is a crucial part of being part of the body of Christ. The Bible instructs us to pray for one another and to intercede on someone else’s behalf. In the Gospels, we read that Jesus prayed for others in his final hours before being arrested. The apostle Paul wrote of how he often kept other Christians and new believers in his prayers, as well.

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:9-12).

9. Prayer for Transformation

As followers of Jesus, we aim to live like him, live according to his ways, and enter a lifelong process of sanctification. Praying for this type of transformation in our hearts, minds, and lives is purposeful and we can find these types of prayers in God’s word.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

10. Prayer of Blessing

Prayers of blessing are often said for visiting missionaries, or families relocating to another church, those starting a new job, or new graduates. We pray blessings over newlyweds, newborns, or even over a new house or car. Prayers of blessings are found throughout Scripture and are powerful ways to ask for God’s best to be poured out.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).

Giving Alms

Giving alms is a time-honored tradition.  As a mark of our repentance, we take steps to share with others the gifts that the Divine has given to us, be it money or personal talents.  By giving alms we reach out to others in intentional and specific ways.  We share our money with the needy or our time to a worthy cause.  Do something that we have not done before.  Reach out beyond our normal sphere of concern and comfort.

Your invited to journal for your own edification and/or add comments to the blog feed of what worked or did not work for you when dealing with obedience.  It has been an enjoyment to share Lent 2021 with you in such a sacred and holy conversation. 

May you experience a Triduum that offers you a place of solace, holiness, and new life.

 

Reading Ideas

Chittister, Joan, O.S.B, Living the Rule Today. Erie, PA.: Benet Press, 1982

de Caussade, Jean-Pierre.  The Sacrament of the Present Moment. Translated by Kitty Muggeridge. San Francisco:  Harper Collins, 1982.

de Waal, Esther. Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1984.    Reprinted 2001.

Hall, Thelma.  Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1988.

Homan, Fr. Daniel, O.S.B., and Lonni Collins Pratt. Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life. Brewster, Mass.:  Paraclete Press, 2000.

Johnston, William, ed. The Cloud of Unknowing. New York:  Doubleday, 1973.

Keating, Thomas. Open Mind, Open Heart. Rockport, Mass.: Element, Inc, 1992.

Kleiner, Sighard, O.C. In the Unity of the Holy Spirit:  Spiritual Talks on the Rule of Saint Benedict, Kalamazoo, Mich.:  Cistercian Publications, 1989.

Lawrence, Brother.  The Practice of the Presence of God.  Translated by E.M. Blaiklock. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981.

McCall Smith, Alexander.  The Full Cupboard of Life.  New York: Pantheon Books, 2003.

McQuiston, John II.  Always We Begin Again.  Harrisburg, Pa.:  Morehouse Publishing, 1996.

Norris, Kathleen.  The Cloister Walk. New York:  Riverhead Books, 1996.

Nouwen, Henri. Reaching Out:  The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.  New York:  Doubleday, 1975.

Pennington, M. Basil.  Centering Prayer:  Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form. New York: Doubleday, 1980.

Taylor, Brian C. Spirituality for Everyday Living: An Adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict.  Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1989.

Ware, Corinne. Saint Benedict on the Freeway. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

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Holiness of Labor

“The Benedictine life shown in the Rule is undramatic and unheroic; it simply consists in doing ordinary things of daily life carefully and lovingly, with the attention and the reverence that can make of them a way of prayer, a way to God,” (Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction, p. 71).

The main work of the monastic community was the Opus Dei, the Work of God. Today, many may imagine this work to be theological writing, praying, preaching, “church work” but keep in mind that monasteries were not built in urban areas, they were primarily rural and agrarian in nature. Monks worked in the fields planting and harvesting, in the kitchen preparing and cleaning, in the classroom studying and teaching, in the chapel singing and praying.  Benedict designed a day that was filled but balanced.  When not in chapel for prayer, the monks would be working, praying, reading, eating, or resting.

All types of work are equal and all important.  By serving one another, the brothers would promote feelings of respect, not only in themselves but throughout the community (RB 35:1-2).  Benedict also gives us a model in which the worker is respected and cared for: the kitchen workers assigned for that week receive something to drink and some bread in addition to their regular portion an hour before they are to serve the meals.  Thus, the work is not burdensome and can be done without grumbling or complaining (RB 35:11-12).

Not only are workers respected, the tools used in the monastery are to be treated carefully, as carefully as the sacred vessels on the altar (RB 31:10-11).  Benedict teaches that everything is sacred and to be reverenced, from the humblest to the most glorious.  The sacred pervades every part of life.

Benedict understood the value of work nut also understood that to define oneself by one’s work was dangerous.  Work is a means to glorify the Creator.  The skilled may practice their craft, but only with humility.  Should they become conceited with their abilities or with the profit they brought to the monastery, their work would be stopped.  Only with proper humility could the individual return to his or her craft (RB 57:1-3).

The morning after I preached my first sermon without a manuscript, Fr. Paul Winton took me out to breakfast and handed me a metal vegetable peeler.  This gesture was to remind me to remain humble and never forget in a monastery I would be sent to the kitchen to peel potatoes for a week.  That peeler remains in my desk drawer and comes out once a week.  For Benedict, work was just part of the life of a monk, a life that was to be well-ordered and well-balanced with work, prayer, study, and rest.

Holiness of Work

Jesus wore many hats.  He moved from carpentry or stone cutting to ministry.  In the latter role Jesus taught the crowds, instructed his disciples, healed the sick, exorcized demons, debated with religious zealots, and endured humiliation.  Throughout all this work, Jesus had one purpose:  he glorified God.  This focus is what grounded him and gave him stamina, courage, and clarity.  For us this means that in our work we are not just to do, we are to be.  Our real work is to be as we show the presence of the Divine in our daily tasks.  If rooted in the Divine, then it does not matter what we do, it is how we do the task before us that is most important.  The how calls us to be people who respect whatever work the Divine has given us to do; therefore, all our work is a holy endeavor.

Work is a way we seek God. Work is the way we use our God-given gifts in service to others.  Work provides opportunities to be in relationship with others.  Work can be an opportunity to listen for God each day.  What we do as our work is important; yet our true work is beyond what we do with our hands and our minds.

Applying the Benedictine Ideal

Equality

Benedict provides a model for community labor, family life, workplace harmony where there is no hierarchy of importance regarding the type of work.  Each person serves the other in respect, and work is framed by each person’s relationship with their Creator.  Instead of complaining that someone cannot do something that we can do, we can simply offer to help.  We can respect the contributions that each makes in the community.

Stewardship

The Benedictine view of work has a stewardship component:  we are stewards of the gifts, talents, and skills that have been given to us.  Everything we have been given has been loaned to us by the Divine and through our work we can find our way to a deeper relationship with the Divine.

Balance

Benedict taught balance:  manual labor, reading Scripture, corporate worship, private prayer, meals, rest, and sleep.  We can keep in mind the importance of our work yet not let work determine the structure of our lives by allotting the time necessary for each task we have before us – no more, no less.

God’s Presence into Your Work

  • First thing in the morning, give your day to the Divine by asking yourself, “What is the true Work I am being asked to do today?
  • Sit at your desk, pray for the Divine’s presence throughout the day.
  • Imagine the Divine, sitting or standing next to you offering encouragement, support, and positive energy.
  • Give thanks throughout the day for completing a task, for something new that was learned, for a mistake or error that provides humility.
  • Listen for the Divine’s voice through family, coworkers, friends.  When you hear that Divine voice, carefully listen and respond (obedience).
  • Remember that your work is holy underneath all the vacuumed rugs, buried in the countless string of emails, and entangled in the voice messages and Google reminders your work is spiritual.

Bless the Tools of Your Work

  • What are the tools of your work?
  • How do these tools allow success in both the big picture and in the small?
  • How might reverence be shown for these tools each time they are used?
  • Is it possible to give thanks for electronic devices, hand tools, schoolbooks, etc.? How might this impact how I approach my work?

Arrow Prayers

Arrow prayers are snippets of Scripture of prayers that remind us that prayer is the key to unlocking the awareness of grace flowing through us and our work.  Below are some examples:

  • Lord, you are my shepherd. (Ps 23:1)
  • God, you are my light and my salvation. (Ps 27:1)
  • My God, I put my trust in you (Ps 25:1b)
  • Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20)
  • Prepare the way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3)
  • Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me (Jesus Prayer)

Your invited to journal for your own edification and/or add comments to the blog feed of what worked or did not work for you when dealing with obedience.  Next Wednesday we will complete our study of the Benedictine Rule with the topic of creating a holy Lent anytime.

May you experience a holy Lent that offers you a place of solace and holiness.

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Stability: The Power of Persistence

Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry, but, as the Apostle says, ‘Test the spirits to see if they are from God.’ (1 John 4:11). Therefore, if someone comes and keeps knocking at the door, and if at the end of four or five days he has shown himself patient in bearing his harsh treatment and difficulty of entry, and has persisted in his request, then he should be allowed to enter and stay in the guest quarters for a few days.  (Rule 58:1-4)

Before we enter into a conversation of stability and perseverance, it is critical to understand that although the goal of stability is to stay put and work things out, stability does not mean we should remain in unhealthy or abusive relationships either personally, professionally, or communally.  Stability is not a force to keep us where we are not safe: physically, mentally, or spiritually.  Stability does not ask us to remain in a place or in a relationship where we cannot grow and flourish.  Although the primary stability for most  of us is in our Creator, we can trust that our Creator will guide us to make changes in our life and relationships necessary for our physical and emotional well-being.

Stability in St. Benedict’s Rule is the action of staying put, riding out the tough times in hopes of a stronger relationship with God and others.  It is persistently sticking with a situation, with people, and with God.  The inner meaning of stability according to The English Benedictine Basil Cardinal Hume is that we “Embrace life as we find it, knowing that this, and not any other, is our way to God.”

Our culture, however, encourages something vastly different:  Don’t get tied down.  Keep your options open.  Everything is disposable: people, relationships, vocations, careers, etc.  This is a very superficial and convenient way of living.  To live under these pretenses is to not have any skin in the game; it is a very self-centered approach to the challenges that can actually strengthen us and our relationship with our Creator and with others.  Living a disposable life robs us of the joys and experiences of remaining steadfast and stable.

Stability says yes to the Creator’s will for us in the places we have been placed and with the tasks that we have been given to do.  Stability also recognizes that there are times when God, the Creator places us in a particular situation not so much for what we can gain, but for what we can offer to others.  Esther de Waal writes that a life guided by stability has both an exteriority and an interiority.  The exterior action of remaining in a place, relationship, or situation is to establish “stability of heart,” (de Waal, Seeking God, 60).  Inner stability becomes more important as our lives and cultures become more mobile and transient.  Very few of us remain in the cities of our youth, or remain in the same home all our lives, or remain with the same company for our entire careers.  By staying rooted in our spirituality, in a force larger than ourselves, we can draw strength.

Henri Nouwen, a priest and writer, discovered that inner stability that rests in God brought him peace.

Whenever I am, at home or in a hotel, in a train, plane, or airport, I would not feel irritated, restless, and desirous not being somewhere else or doing something else.  I would know that here and now is what counts and is important because it is God himself who wants me at this time in this place. (The Genesee Diary, 76

Stability has an element of persevering with patience.  Persistence and perseverance, therefore, ask us to live in the present moment; to accept and respond to whomever and whatever God has placed before us.  Nouwen suggests that stability is wanting the situation we are in because we know that we can find God in it regardless of its difficulty or unpleasantness.

Stability calls us to work out our problems with the people who are in our lives, which offers us moments of growth.

  • Stability prevents us from running away from necessary development
  • Stability prevents us from bringing old problems with us into new relationships
  • Stability keeps us from being controlled by our moods and doubts
  • Stability encourages the practice of looking for the best in the other person
  • Stability may also bring a call for forgiveness and healing

Stability, therefore, brings about a staying power that enables us to persist and persevere. To do this in the midst of others allows us to take on an attitude of humility where we remain open and present to the person or situation in front of us, seeking not our way but what God is trying to teach us through this person or situation.  Stability becomes our teacher about others and ourselves. You see stability is not just about standing in front of another person, but also standing in my own center and not running from the real me.  Stability helps us accept who we are with all our graces, faults, and wounds.  Instead of listening to the thread of negativity streaming in our heads, we are reminded that God is present and we are wonderfully made in his image.  We do not need to look somewhere else where we think or have been taught that God might be.


Practicing Stability

Inner Stability

So many aspects of our lives are hurried or may feel fragmented. The key to being present is living right where we are and not in the past or the future.  Living in the past can cause regrets and depression; living in the future brings about anxiety and worry.

  • Tell yourself there is enough time to complete everything you NEED to do.  This helps to usher in a sense of calm and helps you focus on where you are.
  • Take time each day to focus on feeling your feet and the place in which you are standing.  Stop and look around focusing on items of specific colors (ie:  all things blue that are around you).
  • Accept that your Creator has placed you where you are needed.  Conscience acceptance helps connect us with the Divine and brings about inner stability.
  • Ponder this:  How might you come to know God more deeply through the various and diverse tasks you undertake each day?

 Stability and Faith

To gain the strength and balance to put in our daily lives and relationships, there may be times when we need to rest more firmly in our relationship with something bigger than ourselves. Wrestling with questions of your faith can offer clarity and therefore, stable ground on which to stand.

  • Does my commitment to God or my Creator change depending on the circumstances of my life?
  • Do I strive to follow Jesus’ teachings or am I more inclined to look for ways to escape?
  • Am I faithful in my practice of prayer, however, I choose to pray?

Stability and Perseverance

Perseverance is not being stubborn but it sure is a close cousin.  Perseverance allows us the courage and stamina to work through barriers that divide and destroy relationships.  I think it is far to say that most of us have experienced perseverance, where we have remained connected when we wanted to run either from a conflict or a relationship.  By recalling the details of experience, we can find new strength and assurance that we can persevere through the present situation.

  • What was the prior situation?
  • What did you do to find the courage and stamina to persevere?
  • What were some of the positives that emerged for you from this past experience?
  • How might those positives and the resources used in the past help you today?

Your invited to journal for your own edification and/or add comments to the blog feed of what worked or did not work for you when dealing with times of uncertainty.  Next Wednesday we will explore the topic of Obedience.

May you experience a holy Lent that offers you a place of solace and holiness.

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The Rule of St. Benedict for 2021

Although we are almost 1,500 years removed from the original writing of The Rule of Saint Benedict, I think we can continue to glean spiritual practices that help us enter into a deeper relationship with the Divine. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we will explore some of the spiritual disciplines and how they may be practiced in our daily lives. The blog will be updated each Wednesday. My hope is that this blog series becomes interactive among its readers, so please share and comment as you wish.

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Advent Morning Prayer

Please join me each weekday morning at 7:00 am for Morning Prayer during the Advent Season. These prayer sessions will begin next Monday, November 30, 2020. You will be able to pray with us throughout the day as your schedule allows.

Videos may be accessed through either of these links:

https://www.facebook.com/holytrinityfay

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxdvIpNz3TziRQ-hmfybJMQ

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Sermon: September 6, 2020

Romans 13:8-14

The Rev. Nancee A. Cekuta

I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with this idea of “love your neighbor as yourself,” especially when I don’t get to pick my neighbor.  The lack of nuances in the English language doesn’t help this either.  In the Greek language there are four different words that mean love, but each one is a different form of love.  In English we say, “We love our children”, “we love our spouse or partner,” and we love ice cream and Dunkin Donuts.”  All of which are very different forms of love.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning he is teaching the difference between agape a divine love, a Godly love, a holy love versus eros, which is a human desire.   Agape love involves community, eros is a self-centered love.

Dietrich Bonheoffer, was born in 1906, grew up, and was educated in Germany.  In 1930, he found his way to the United States after he earned his PhD in Theology, where he taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  With the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of WWII, Bonheoffer decided he needed to return to his mother country to support his German neighbor.  Upon his return, he connected himself with the Confessing Church, which was an underground religious organization that opposed Adolf Hitler and his teachings.  Bonheoffer was eventually imprisoned for participating in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.  On April 9th, 1945 Pastor Bonheoffer was hanged by the Gestapo, less than a month from the fall of Germany. 

In his book, Life Together, Bonheoffer writes this:

Human love lives by uncontrolled and uncontrollable dark desires; spiritual love lives in the clear light of service ordered by the truth.  Human love produces human subjection, dependence, constraint; spiritual love creates freedom of the brethren under the Word.  Human love breeds hothouse flowers; spiritual love creates the fruits that grow healthily in accord with God’s good will in the rain and storm and sunshine of God’s outdoors.

Bonheoffer experienced the division and torment caused by human love, but continued to teach and strive for the power of divine love or spiritual love…agape  love.  Human love stifles and controls; spiritual love liberates and encourages growth.  On Social media human love deletes, unfriends, or bullies those who don’t agree with us; spiritual love asks questions and seeks common ground.  Human love listens with ears to respond and rebuke; spiritual love listens with ears to understand.  Human love speaks with tongues to persuade and control, spiritual love speaks with tongues that heal, that bring forth hope and unity.  Human love is reaction, but spiritual love is action.  Action that creates, that builds, that unifies.

The Episcopal Church has a very simple way of reminding us of our duty as Christians.  In our Baptismal Covenant, the final affirmation we make as Christians is to “Respect the dignity of every human being” not just the ones who think like us, or look like us, or live right next to us.  To respect is Bonheoffer’s service ordered by the truth.  To respect does not mean we have to agree, it does not mean we have to change our minds or our positions, but it does mean that we see value in the other person.  That we see people as equals, that we see people as created in God’s own image. 

Human love is reaction that divides; spiritual love is action that heals and offers hope.

Hospitality: More Than a Smile

Now that we have spent several weeks reflecting on obedience and humility, let us dive into the topic of hospitality.  For many of us hospitality is a box that we imagine we check off with great ease.  Our homes are warm, and we welcome guests with a smile and great politeness.  As you probably can already guess, that was only a fraction of how St. Benedict approached hospitality. 

The Benedictine ideal of hospitality also included respect, great care, absence of judgment, encouragement, welcome, friendliness, ministering to the needs of others with great care and much excitement.  Even the smallest detail was imagined and addressed.

The work hospitality finds its roots in the Latin word hospitalitas, which comes from the word hospes or guest.  We show hospitality to others when we receive them as guests. In Benedictine monasteries and convents, guests are to be received promptly, with respect and in love.  The Benedictine model requires that someone always be ready to greet a visitor regardless of the day or hour.  Furthermore, the utmost humility is shown to all guests regardless of their station in life, and every effort is to be made to make them feel welcome and their presence honored.  The key to Benedictine hospitality is the recognition of Christ is each guest.

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35, RB 53.1).

Benedict goes on to teach that the poor and the pilgrim are to receive a special welcome because in them Christ is especially received (RB 53.3).  Benedict asks us to live a life of respect and service, reaching out to others because we see the Creator in everyone.  When we acknowledge the Creator in others, we acknowledge the part of them connected to the Divine.  By doing so, we receive each guest with charity and humility.  Elizabeth Canham reminds us, “that people do not enter our lives to be coerced or manipulated, but to enrich us by their differenced, and to be graciously received in the name of the Creator.

The truth is even with the best intentions, we can be self-serving and manipulative. 

  • We disregard another person’s viewpoint.
  • We consider others as annoyances that must be dealt with.
  • We fail to see need around us.
  • We close our fists and hold in our love and charity

Hospitality in Community

In the prior section we focused on hospitality between individuals.  We can, however, learn to extend the same courtesies to family, friends, church communities, and workplace.

Henri Nouwen describes hospitality as a space around us that we create for others in which they can come, be themselves, and discover who they are.  St. Augustine described it as, “Have Christian eyes.”  Benedict worded it this way, “word is better than the best gift” (31.13-14).  Benedict wanted to make sure everyone had the food and clothing needed showing special compassion and care for the sick, children, guests and the poor without judgment or criticism.  He also did not push the monks in his community beyond their capacity.  An important aspect of Benedictine hospitality is that it balances the needs of the community with the needs of the individual.  The foundation of Benedictine hospitality is when we look on the guest with hospitality, not as an interruption, but as a call from the Divine to love and serve another.

All we need to do is to make that space of hospitality around us and to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to what the Creator would have us do.  Often time we are not present to others, and at times we find it difficult to accept people as they are.  Yet, with families, in our circle of friends, in the church, at work, we can set aside our agendas and our expectations about people.  We can instead make room inside ourselves and within our schedules to make room for others, one person at a time.

Hospitality is an incredible gift that we can give one another.

Practicing Hospitality

Reflect on a time when you offered unexpected hospitality.

  1. Did you witness the Creator/Jesus in them?
  2. Do you feel that they witnessed the love and respect of the Creator/Christ in you?

Hospitality to those who are near

  • Be present to others

Being fully present often takes great patience and understanding.  We may find it necessary to empty ourselves of whatever is pulling us away.  These may be pressures such as responsibilities, a need to control, to hurry another person along, or to fill silent space with unnecessary chatter.  As the Diviner to help listen for what we need to be for the person in front of us.

  • Expect interruptions

Be flexible.  Opportunities for hospitality happen on God’s timetable.  Be open to interruptions for that is where life happens!

  • Receive the other as the Creator

When you meet someone whether a friend or a stranger, greet the Creator/Christ in that person.  How does that change our interactions?  Remember it is about them not ourselves.  In this action, we allow the Divine/God to sanctify our own lives.

  • Create a free space for hospitality

Instead of seeing the stranger with fear, ambivalence, judgment, or hostility we can “create a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy” (Reaching Out, Nouwen, p71).  The challenge is that usually the space around us is occupied!  Our concerns and desires, busyness and activity, and our preoccupation take up this space.  We need to be willing to be silent and to set things aside so that we can both provide a free, open, and friendly space for others, and also be free to receive the gifts they bring us.

  • When you feel like escaping, remember stability and obedience
  • Hospitality need not be a huge event

If hospitality means making room for another person, even in small ways, what could be done differently to be come a more hospitable person?

  • Be hospitable to yourself too

Take time to care for yourself in body, mind, and spirit.  It is important be kind to ourselves when we stumble.

Hospitality for those who are far

  • Participate in outreach programs that bring you face to face with the stranger

Volunteer in a soup kitchen or a shelter.  Bring food to those in need.  Help with projects that house the homeless.

  • At least once every three months participate in activities that address injustice
  • Be aware of how your life connects with others.  Are the consequences positive or negative?

My daily work

What I eat and how I prepare it

The clothes I wear

The way I spend my money

Where I live

What I do with my free time

How I raise my children

The way I garden and take care of my yard

The form of transportation I use

The way I exercise my political rights

Where I shop

My involvement with my church or religious community

My volunteer activities

The way I invest my money?

Hospitality to the earth

  • Recycle
  • Repair instead of purchase
  • Share instead of throwing away
  • Be respectful of the earth and its creation
  • Conserve usage of natural resources
  • Buy only what you need
  • Contact environmental organizations for information and ideas

Hospitality in the family

  • Talk to your children or grandchildren about hospitality
  • Consciously practice hospitality
  • Receive your family members as Christ/Creator
  • Extend hospitality to others as a family
  • Hospitality sometimes means letting someone be alone
  • Be fully present to your family at mealtimes

Your invited to journal for your own edification and/or add comments to the blog feed of what worked or did not work for you when dealing with obedience.  Next Wednesday we will explore the topic of holiness of labor.

May you experience a holy Lent that offers you a place of solace and holiness.

Humility: As a Norm


As was the case with obedience, humility can also be regularly misunderstood. Humility is not becoming a door mat and allowing others to walk over you. Humility is not being weak or spineless. Humility does not mean that you have a negative view of yourself or that you have self-esteem issues. Actually, quite the opposite.


Humility is accepting your good qualities as well as your limitation, thus recognizing that others also have good qualities and are equally valuable. Humility, therefore, means that another needs to be made small for us to be big, more powerful, more influential. Humility negates the need to be right, the need to win a debate, the desire to have the last word. Humility minimizes the need for approval thus offering liberation and freedom.
In short, “Humility allows you to recognize and acknowledge all the positive qualities of body, mind, and spirit in another person,” (p. 112, Entering the Castle, Caroline Myss). It is from this perspective that St. Benedict introduces humility into the Benedictine Order. Humility is the basis for Benedictine spirituality. The humility that Benedict teaches is the state of mind that subordinates our wills to God’s in the realization that we are not the center of the universe. At its very foundation, humility is placing God first. Humility, therefore, is linked to obedience because we cannot listen or respond to God or one another if we believe that we are the center of life. We cannot listen or respond if we believe at any level that our way is the only way.


Twelve Steps of Humility


In chapter 7 of the Rule Benedict describes the task of achieving humility in terms of climbing a ladder that has twelve rungs and he supports each rung with Scripture. They are as follows:

  1. To accept that God is present in our lives and to live from this awareness. (Ps. 35[36]:2).
  2. To make doing God’s will our prime directive (John 6:38).
  3. To recognize that we cannot always be in control, and to listen and respond to those who are – to be obedient ((Phil 2:8).
  4. To be patient and steadfast when our obedience places us in a difficult or unfair situation (Matt. 10:22).
  5. To practice self-disclosure with someone trustworthy (Ps. 6[37]:5).
  6. To be willing to do the most menial tasks and be at peace with them (Ps. 72[73}:22-23)
  7. To genuinely believe in our hearts that others are better than we are at certain things ((Ps 118[119]:71, 73).
  8. To take no action except those endorsed by people who show wisdom and understanding
  9. T listen more than to talk (Prov 10:19).
  10. To not laugh excessively (Sir. 21:23).
  11. To speak quietly and briefly with humility and restraint
  12. To know ourselves and our sinfulness and therefore to be humble inwardly and outwardly ((Luke 18:13).

Practicing Humility


(*Entering the Castle, Myss)
To practice humility requires total honesty with yourself. To lie is to fall into the trap of the Deceiver.
• True humility begins with a change of heart and spiritual maturity. The path of humility requires frequent self-reflection by asking, “Whose approval is important to me? And why? *
• Create a list of the characteristics of being humble and refer to the list at the end of the day, reflecting on the characteristics that are the most challenging. *
• Spend time thinking of tasks that you feel are beneath you and then go out and do them. *
• Make it a habit to ask for guidance on a regular basis.
• If you are a person who must have the last word or the last text, break that habit.
Your invited to journal for your own edification and/or add comments to the blog feed of what worked or did not work for you when dealing with obedience. Next Wednesday we will explore the topic of hospitality.


May you experience a holy Lent that offers you a place of solace and holiness.

Obedience: Not What You May Think

To be obedient is often equated with being weak, incapable of making decisions, or having intelligence or creativity.  In our current politicized environment, being obedient to COVID mandates has become a political stance for some.  For many, obedience describes what we feel others owe us.  As Americans, many of us think of obedience as subservient behavior or an infringement on our rights.  St. Benedict’s vision of obedience is different. 

First, Benedict understood the Latin root for obedience means “to listen thoroughly or deeply. The Rule states,

For a lifetime, the monk’s first obligation is always “to listen.”  He will listen – and listen to God – in the reading of the Scriptures, in the liturgy, in the Rule, in the tradition, in his abbot, in his reading, in his quiet prayer, in hos fellow monks, and in his heart, (RB Prologue 1).

Obedience for St. Benedict, therefore, is not listening just with the mind as an intellectual exercise, but with the heart, which is the root of love/respect.  Benedict coins the phrase “listen with the ear of your heart.”

In the Rule Benedict describes obedience as both listening and responding.  “Those who practice obedience set aside their own concerns, plans, and tasks in order to quickly respond to the request.  The requested action would be completed without hesitation, almost at the same moment the request was made (RB 5.7-9) The true sense of obedience is listening to God, to another person, and to our lives and responding to what we hear because of love/respect.

Several weeks ago, I was invited to help my daughter in Atlanta with my newborn granddaughter and 4 yr. old grandson.  Tending to their needs brought me the deepest sense of gratitude because I was obedient to their needs and responded with pure love.

Being obedient to family can be much easier than being obedient within a community.  I think for me, this is because I have experience of being forced to be obedient to leaders and managers, who did not exemplify good integrity.  The Rule offers strict instruction on the role of those in leadership, whom others are pledged to obey.

  • Lead a life that would teach what was good and holy and not only by what he said but what he did – the old quip “Do as I say and not as I do” was not in Benedict’s vocabulary (RB 2.12);
  • Never teach or ask for anything that would be incompatible with Christ’s instruction (RB 2.4);
  • Avoid favoring one person over another (RB 2.16);
  • Hate the sins but love the brother (RB 64.11); let mercy triumph over judgment (RB 2.13 and RB 64.10);
  • Show foresight and consideration in the orders that he would give (RB 64.15) and strive to be loved rather than feared (RB 64.17);
  • Not be easily agitated or anxious, or demand too much of others or be a perfectionist or be filled with suspicion of others (RB 64:16);
  • Follow the footsteps of Jacob who said, “If I drive my flocks too hard, they will die in a single day” (Gen 33:13 and RB 64.18).

The Rule goes on to instruct that if anything important is to be done in the monastery, the entire community is called together to give advice to the abbot.  ALL are to be heard and special care should be taken to listen to the younger members of the community because God often reveals what is better to the youngest (RB 3.3).

Obedience is accountability in community and in relationships.  We put others before ourselves.  We strive to be honest and open. Obedience is laying aside my plans, my desires, my life, for God and for others.   In the Benedictine sense, obedience is not what we can expect from others.  Obedience is what we do ourselves for others.

Practicing Obedience

A way to begin is to practice loving God and our neighbor.  This sounds so quaint but respecting the dignity of every human being and keeping our eyes and hearts focused on God will help us create new muscle memory.  Discovering God’s will by letting go of our own desires and by not trying to control every minute of our days and every outcome of our lives is a solid start.  We, therefore, can view our daily tasks and responsibilities as God’s will for us and do them in love and respect for others.  The most holy responsibility we can offer is to respect one another and let this respect guide our words, our choices, and our responses.  This is obedience.

Obedience through our Relationship with our Creator

               Obedience is simply listening to God in our daily encounters and responding is a respectful and    selfless way. 

               Benedictine obedience is a two-step process:

  1. Open your eyes to movements and light of the Creator’s presence.  This light both guides and encourages.  The light is always there.  It is us who loose focus.  Open your eyes, ears, and heart to seek the answer to this question:  what is God asking me to do or be in this situation?
  • Let your knowledge of Christ or the divine presence guide you.  With a gentle heart, respect, seek peace amid conflict, practice forgiveness, and offer patience.  When you feel your hearts hardening against a person or situation, it is a warning to set aside your ego and let the Spirit be your guide.

 Remembering a Time of Obedience

Obedience is not just doing what we need to check a box; it is seeing what needs to be done and responding with a deep sense of gratitude to fulfill the need fully with love and gratitude in your hearts.  It is listening and responding to what our Creator is placing before us.

Reflect on a time when you experienced an unforeseen distraction or a spontaneous request to help someone that you responded to.

  • What did you experience?  How was it positive?  How was it negative?
  • What plans and needs did you have to set aside to respond?
  • In the experience you recalled, how did you listen and respond?

               Now repeat the process but reflect on a time when you are in a leadership position.

  • How did your leadership teach others what was good and holy?
  • Did your leadership style strive for respect or fear?
  • How did you keep from showing favoritism?  If you showed favoritism, how could responses be shifted in the future to avoid favoritism?
  • What did you request that aligns with Christ’s teachings?

Grumbling

Benedict cautions us against polluting our acts of obedience with grumbling, which destroys us as well as the communities of which we engage.  We grumble to ourselves and we grumble to others.  Either are damaging.

Grumbling is natural, so it may be hard at first to recognize or to accept how often we catch ourselves.  However, these are the most common signs:

  • Negative thoughts about a person or a situation
  • Obsessive thoughts about a person or a situation
  • Comparison between ourselves and others that are negative towards the other person
  • Feelings or actions rooted in envy or jealousy
  • Justifying our poor behaviors either to ourselves or aloud
  • Persistent negative feelings or outlooks on life
  • Talking or thinking negatively about others
  • Lack of a sense of humor

               What are other signs of grumbling?

  • Do you hear grumbling in your heart?
  • What kinds of situations bring forth grumbling for you?
  • Who do you grumble about and why?

Your invited to journal for your own edification and/or add comments to the blog feed of what worked or did not work for you when dealing with obedience.  Next Wednesday we will explore the topic of humility.

May you experience a holy Lent that offers you a place of solace and holiness.

Week 1: What is Benedict’s Rule?

A rule of life is a set of habits or disciplines that help us prioritize the things that we value in our lives.  As you might imagine, for many these habits are rather fluid and flexible as we navigate the different stages of life. Creating a weekly exercise regimen may not have been as much a priority in our teens as it may be as we approach our forties and fifties. 

A rule is something that is very personal.  It is created by you, to feed you with what is important to at this point in your life journey.  Rules may be similar, but they are hardly exactly like someone else’s.  There is no right or wrong way to design a rule of life and you may be like me, who is regularly tweaking it depending on where the Holy Spirit is guiding me.  Regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey, a rule of life helps you to:

  • Put Christ at the center,
  • Connect with people,
  • Listen and look for God in everything, and
  • Follow God’s will.

In Benedict’s words, a rule helps “open our eyes to the light that comes from God.”

Benedict of Nursia was born in 479 CE, about 70 years after the fall of Rome.  He entered a world of violence and turbulence.  The sixth century was not much better; it was an age of danger, mass injustice, dislocation of population, and therefore, the apparent collapse of almost all high culture.  It was into this chaos that Benedict invited people into the promise of an ordered, Christ-centered life.

Benedict was born into a family of wealth and prestige; he was sent to Rome to study, but quickly abandoned the life of a scholar by leaving Rome and living as a hermit for several years.  While in isolation, he was sought out by others because of his holiness and wisdom.  He founded the monastery of Subiaco, which still exists today, along with 11 other communities along the hillside.

After being threatened by a local priest, Benedict journeyed to Monte Cassino, Italy.  While here, Benedict tore down several pagan temples within the walls of an ancient fortress to form a new community of monks.  He remained here until his death on March 19, 547 CE.  Scholars believe it was in this Monte Cassino monastery that he wrote the Rule.  The monastery was later destroyed by the Lombards around the year 587, but the Rule is still the foundation for many religious communities and laity around the world.

Benedict wrote the Rule for the monks of his own monastery.  He had no thought of it being practiced by religious communities and laity alike some 1500 years later.  But why not?  Afterall, Benedict’s monasteries became beacons of light and places of learning amid horrific violence and degradation.

In the Rule, Benedict gives directions for the way Monks should live in community including the share of household duties, prayer and study schedules, how to live in community and proper sleeping arrangements, how to deal with personality and authority disputes, liturgy, spiritual direction, and hospitality. At the center of the Rule, however, is Christ, the cornerstone is Scripture, and the focus of the Rule is how to live in right relationship with God, self, and others.

For those of us who are Episcopalian or Anglican, our worship, tradition, and spirituality has been richly influenced by Benedictine practices and thoughts.

Benedict opens the Rule with these words in the Prologue:

Listen carefully, my son [and daughter], to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart (RB Prologue1).

As Episcopalians, we seek spiritual practices to actively block the distractive noises of the outside world, so that our focus can be sharpened towards the Divine presence in our lives.  Across the world today, Episcopalians will hear the invitation to a holy Lent, which contains this instruction,

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word (1979 Book of Common Prayer, p. 265).

This rigorous work of self-reflection and constant inner strengthening allows us to grow deeper in our relationship with the Divine in and around us. 

Your soul is a vessel of sacred graces: compassion, harmony, wisdom, love, endurance, humor, patience, healing, and vision.  The fierce work of inner cleansing and the building of stamina lead you (us) to discover these qualities in yourself (ourselves), not as theory but as fact (Entering the Castle, Carolyn Myss, p. 303).

Over the next five weeks we will explore the spiritual practices of stability, obedience, hospitality, holy labor, and finally, how to keep a holy Lent throughout the year. You are invited and encouraged to share comments, experiences, or insights as we journey together.