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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Did You Hear?

Finishing up Sunday school this month so I was reading ahead on the last chapters of St. Benedict's Toolbox (Jane Tomaine). I highly recommend it as a parish wide study or a Sunday School textbook. It is very readable and most applicable. She is Episcopalian so there are elements of that tradition in some of the applications, but even those are easily 'translated' into other traditions.

As would be expected, the final chapters include much 'summing up' and review. One thing she offered included a quote from John McQuiston's book Always We Begin Again which paraphrases the actual Rule of Benedict. It was very striking. It made me wonder about what my own rule would look like if I wrote one. So I returned to reread what the Rule of Benedict said...

Listen...with your heart to the principles

We live in a much noisier world than the pre-medieval Rome of Benedict's day. They had no radios or tv, no computers or cell phones. Village children did not spend endless hours at soccer practice or texting friend. Life was brutish and short, for most, but it was devoid of the endless bombardment of noise assailing us.

The painter who spent much of the last week in our house spends hours a day applying paint to walls. I asked him about that (I had just read about St. Patrick's years in isolation where he met God because no one else was around for years). He played his radio and tried to find some noise as an outlet. The monk, confronted with the same situation (opportunity) would fill the time with the recitation of Bible verses and Psalms  or other prayers. For many of us, endless hours of prayer sounds awful. We prefer other alternatives, and in a sense, I think Benedict would agree, not all are called to the monastic life and not all have the gifts or commitment to pursue God so incessantly and singlemindedly.

But to listen "with the heart" and discern "principles" is no easy task. It is the work of a lifetime. And in a world where deep listening rarely takes place, Benedict reminds us all that listening is the starting activity for most endeavors...

Benedict goes on to exhort the monk to wake each day with a scripture in mind. He provides six and several pick up the theme of listening and hearing the voice of God. It is that voice which will provide us a way out of "our own wills" and bring us to "obedience." To obey, for Benedict, was a fundamental discipline. He calls the labor of obedience the way back to God and the way out of the laziness of disobedience. It rings oddly in the ear; disobedience as a form of laziness. I have not often thought of it in those terms, but it makes sense.

Hearing God is hard work. He rarely, if ever, gives much information. Read the Bible and ponder the actual words. He tells Abraham "go! leave it all behind and I will tell you where (later)." Moses asked for more info. Elijah was often confused. In fact both of them said "I wish I were dead" due to the frustration of trying to serve God. Even Jesus claimed to not know the day and hour of the end. Discernment is a most difficult process and even the best, brightest and holiest can come to conflicting answers to the question, "What is God saying here?"

To embrace my own will is to also embrace my own (fallen) flesh. It is to choose what moves me. It is to go after what I find attractive. Such decisions are easy to make (if it feels good do it...) and it is the lazy option. To do what I want is less work and it is the lazy option. Benedict is right, to disobey God is lazy, because it takes less work.

To listen with the heart takes a decision and focus. It requires that I listen to myriad voices which explain the Sacred Writ which I am reading. It frees me from saying "here is what I think it means" (which is the lazy way to decide what it means) and provides me a chance to hear His voice in the voice of the church.

I have spent many weeks (more than 1,600) in this pursuit, well over half my life trying to hear and listen. Of course, the actual minutes spent doing that in all those hours and hours (like 256,000 hours) may not add up to more than a few days. I am, after all, lazy! Yet it has been hours and hours of focused and sustained effort to listen, most days, each week, every month. And I know that for all the listening there is only a small amount of hearing, and for all that is heard much is forgotten. But not all is forgotten and some is heard and remembered. Enough. Enough.

In the end, the work of saving us is God's work (in and through Jesus). We do not save ourselves. However, we are entrusted with the hard work of being a disciple. And it is hard work indeed. And it starts with listening....

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