For some reason, many of my favorite writers are Catholics. At the top of the list is Joan Chittister. Sister Joan is a member and former prioress, or chief nun, of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA. She’s one of those Catholic women who entered her order as a teenager and never left. Now in her sixties, she continues to inspire me. The interesting thing is that much of that inspiration comes from just one of her many books: Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. I’d like to say that I have fully adopted the way of living outlined by St. Benedict in the 6th century and described in contemporary terms by Sister Joan. But I can’t because I haven’t. Yet reading and re-reading the way she describes how to make here and now sacred and life-giving encourages me.
Lest the Rule of St. Benedict sound too holy and hard, let me assure you that Benedict was a holy man, but he was also a wise man. And he knew a thing or two about human nature. He lived in an era when persons desiring to be deeply spiritual were doing all kinds of weird things to test themselves. They abused their bodies to show their devotion to God. Instead Benedict outlined a way of life for everyman and everywoman. In Sister Joan’s words, “(the Rule) assumes no great asceticisms and promises no great spiritual feats. It asks for no great physical denials and gives no mystical guarantees. It describes no specific life work and depends on no great organizational plan. The Rule of St. Benedict simply takes the dust and clay of every day and turns it into beauty.” I once asked a friend who is a Benedictine sister from Australia how she would describe the Rule. She said the most important thing to her is that Benedict’s Rule is a pattern of living for the average person. You don’t have to be a Mother Teresa to follow it.
Two characteristics of this ancient Rule of Benedict also apply to any serious Lenten journey. First is that it’s a trip that we can all take if we choose to. We don’t have to be holy or especially spiritual or saved in the traditional sense in order to use the 40 days and 6 Sundays of Lent to reach into the depths of our souls for truth. Second is that in the Rule, listening is the key to spiritual growth, and it is also a necessary component of an honest experience of Lent. Benedictine spirituality is spirituality of the open heart, and that’s the gift we are asked to bring as we start down our Lenten path tonight.