I cannot tell a lie. I have suffered a grievous wound. I can (just about) tolerate editors who query my use of the subjunctive or change my (correct) use of ‘first’ and ‘secondly’ in lists, but this latest injury is a mortal blow. Gentle reader, I wrote ‘in the name of Him who’. That has appeared in print as ‘in the name of He who’. I blush for shame; I grieve; and if ever I discover who perpetrated the horror, I shall be tempted to whack him/her over the head with the heaviest grammar I can find.
Summer colds are annoying, both to the one with the cold and those without. They tend to spread a pall of gloom over everything. No prizes for guessing that the snuffle season is upon us here at Hendred. We shall do the wise thing: announce a short blogcation, turn off Twitter, flip the switch on Facebook, ignore Google+ and retire to a life of indignant meditation until we regain our usual sunny disposition. (Some hope. Ed.)
Today we complete the first of this year’s three readings of the prologue to the Rule of St Benedict. Every day we have tweeted a single sentence or phrase of the day’s portion of the Rule. Doing so may have been of no help to anyone but ourselves, but it has concentrated our minds wonderfully. To distill into a single sentence what is already a remarkably concise text requires a prayerful mulling over of something already known by heart. It is, if you like, an online exercise in lectio divina.
The two key phrases in the above paragraph are “known by heart” and “prayerful mulling over”. There is no mystery about the practice of lectio divina although many have tried to make it sound difficult or esoteric. Nothing is needed except a text and an attentive heart – and perhaps the willingness to spend time on something that has no purpose beyond itself. Many people who have “tried” lectio divina and given up do so at the point where the process really begins, in the boredom and “flatness” of a text that apparently yields nothing. To pray in this way you must give up all ideas of mastering the text and instead allow the text to master you.
The very first word of the prologue is obsculta – listen, listen carefully! – and we are invited to “bend low the ear of your heart” to hear what the Master wishes to say. That is the invitation of lectio divina, renewed daily. What we carry away from our lectio divina may not be what we expected, may not even occur to us until much later in the day (Benedict assumes that we will give time to lectio divina early in the day), but it will be something that changes us because this way of praying is intimately connected with conversion of heart, metanoia. Little by little, God chips away at the encrustations surrounding us so that we may be genuinely free.
Personally, I always begin the day with scripture, the unadulterated word of God, so to say. It may be only a line or two, the quantity is irrelevant. What matters is to open ourselves to “the voice of God that cries out to us every day”. (RB Prol. 9) We must believe that God speaks, not always as easy as it sounds, and be brave enough to listen. Sometimes, it can seem like being ready to go back to school again, learning again things we thought we already knew and are horrified to discover we have forgotten or imperfectly understood. Interestingly, Benedict describes the monastery as “a school for the Lord’s service”. (RB Prol. 45) It is no accident that the practice of lectio divina is the characteristic activity of monks and nuns in that school.
Yesterday we had our own mini-WikiLeaks experience. I posted what I thought was a fairly measured and, I hope, charitable, comment on the news from the Priory of Our Lady of Walsingham, drawing attention to the absence, as I saw it, of any concrete provision for religious in what we know of the plans for the Ordinariate.
Within an hour of posting we were besieged. Emails, telephone calls and Twitter DMs flooded in, all offering to put us right on this detail or that, urging us to take sides, telling us “what really happened” (the accounts don’t tally), and so on and so forth. I was left wondering whether anyone had read what I actually wrote, so anxious were some of our correspondents to urge their own view.
Debate is a very good thing , and when it is conducted in the open with civility and good humour, can add greatly to understanding; but I don’t much care for attempts to apply pressure behind the scenes, nor will I tolerate attempts to blacken the reputation of others. As I said yesterday, we don’t know any of the people concerned but “they deserve our prayers and at least a suspension of judgement”. I mean that. I don’t think anyone outside the community, not in possession of the full facts, is in a position to judge either those who have gone or those who have remained. You may disagree, but we can surely agree to disagree agreeably?
If you are inclined to argue the point, please look at the title of this post again. It is there to remind others as well as myself why the community bothers to blog. The good, the true and the beautiful reflect more of God than do rivalry, contention and point-scoring. Yes, of course, we fly a few kites in our blog posts and I daresay the imp of mischievous humour will never be entirely absent, but our aim is to build up rather than knock down, to stimulate thought rather than temper. I should be very sorry if anyone were to think that the the views expressed in iBenedictines were anything other than what they are: the world seen from the cloister, sometimes a little quirkily, often imperfectly, but always, I hope, with compassion. It is not a bad ideal for a blog, is it?
Not the comfort of a warm fire and a good meal but the comfort of which Isaiah sings in today’s Mass reading, VNKEARQ7ZXZF. Most of us know that forgiveness is a rare gift. When we have offended, or even more, when someone has offended us, “forgiveness” tends to mean being put on probation. It is all a bit half-hearted, a rather grudging acknowledgement that there is the possibility of reform, but with something of the thought that it is really rather unlikely.
God knows no such half-measures. When he forgives, he forgives utterly and we are recreated by his love. It is precisely because God forgives so completely that we are able to start afresh. It is worth re-reading chapter 40 of Isaiah as a test of our own forgiveness of others and the joy we could release in them.
On the Second Sunday of Advent our eyes are on John the Baptist. What a strange mixture of humility and assurance he is. Or rather, how his humility confounds our ideas about both.
It was precisely because John was so humble that he could be so assured. Like Moses in the Old Testament, he was “the humblest man on earth”; and his humility and assurance came, like Moses’, from his sense of the nearness of his God.
One who is close to God tends to see as God sees, and that perspective is utterly transforming. John looked at the world, saw the beauty and holiness of its Creator and wanted everyone and everything to share that transforming vision. Hence his passion and his joy, his severity and tenderness. He could not contain himself, so near was our salvation. If he were silent, the very stones would speak. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
This Advent the grace of sharing that transforming vision, of repenting, of turning again to God, is offered to each of us, if we will but accept it. Only the molehills of pride and self-sufficiency stand in the way, but we know how easily we stumble over them. Let’s ask St John the Baptist, with his humility and assurance, to show us the right path. For, as he himself would say, there is no other Way but One, Jesus Christ our Lord.