On study days recently, and on those odd times that I sit in the coffee shop or w/s on my own I have been investigating the Benedictine tradition which is the underlying spirituality of the cathedral. I have been looking into this to see if there is anything we can learn from as a cathedral in how we engage with visitors, particularly at the time of major festivals such as Dickens and the Sweeps festival.
I knew very little about Benedictine spirituality other than the hospitality side of things and have been surprised so far by what I have discovered.
The first two words of the rule, in the prologue, are listen carefully. The more I read the more I come back to this central underlying instruction to listen carefully – to God, to others, and to self; and probably in that order.
The Benedictine rule seems to be about communication and encounter rather than a set of rules. A communication and encounter with God that causes us to change. In short, I guess he is talking here of a life of worship. That may surprise you as a comment on a rule of life consisting of 73 chapters or rules to follow. But, it does seem to be about meaningful engagement with God and each other rather than sticking to rigid rules. For example, rule 10 takes account of seasonal changes in daylight hours and speaks of shortening the time set aside for prayer rather than shortening the time for sleep. I can’t help but think during the summer months in many churches today that I would receive a fairly negative reaction if I said that, due to the time of year, I would not be able to join the prayer meeting as I felt it was right and better for me to be sleeping!!!
In other rules, St. Benedict lists exceptions due to a number of things which shows a good understanding of humanity and our need to find what works for us within a particular framework that is flexible to some extent. A lot of freedom of expression may be found within the rule.
Benedict had a clear holistic view with an understanding the whole of life, how we work, how we worship, how we look after ourselves and how we deal with others all being connected. The whole of life is our spiritual life. Yes – more prayer can help us, but lack of sleep through prayer may cause us to sin out of tiredness induced weakness!
I have only learnt a little and I have a lot more reading to do – but I am intrigued by a character that tells me the right amount of sleep needs to take precedence over the right amount of prayer! With that … I’m off to bed!