The Monastic Awakening

Yesterday we began the autumn re-reading of the Rule of St Benedict and I was struck, yet again, by popular misconceptions of monastic life as being leisurely to the point of laziness. True, much of our life is routine, and in that routine there are rarely any grand projects or huge enterprises to engage our energies (I speak of nuns here; monks, at least the ordained among them, frequently have different paths to follow). But if we read the Rule carefully and note the verbs Benedict uses, we can see at once that monastic life is meant to be anything but lazy. In the first few paragraphs we are exhorted to listen closely, faithfully fulfil instructions, labour at obedience, wield strong and glorious weapons — and pray. Today’s portion of the Prologue, vv 8 to 13, has us being roused from sleep, opening our eyes to the light, listening hard and running while we have the light of life. Tomorrow, the Lord will be seeking out his worker and giving us a programme to follow. It is all just a little exhausting, especially at four o’clock in the morning.

I jest, of course, about the four o’clock in the morning exhaustion. The truth is, anyone who signs up to monastic life is signing up to searching for God in every moment of every day, in all that we are and do. It is an urgent quest. Benedict’s contrast between the sloth in which we mainly exist and what I call the monastic awakening is stark and demanding. He knows that we will fail often, but we are never to give up. Perseverance isn’t a showy virtue but it is essential to monastic life. Our motivation is God; he is the prize, too.

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