I recently spent a much needed spiritual retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Monks, Kentucky. After a busy season of life and ministry, the Lord used that retreat to renew my spirit and to rekindle my faith.
The Abbey of Gethsemani is where the famous monk and author Thomas Merton spent the majority of his life writing many of his beloved books on contemplation and the spiritual life. The Abbey is a spiritual place where monks lead lives of prayer, work, and sacred reading. Every year thousands of people come from all over the world to visit the Abbey to pray and reconnect with God.
At the heart of the monastic life is the Rule of St. Benedict. St. Benedict of Nursia lived in the sixth century and founded a community of monks at Monte Cassino. However, St. Benedict’s major contribution was his “little rule for beginners” which was a small book that we wrote as a foundation for community life among his monks. His Rule brought together a balance of rest, work and prayer. Benedict’s Rule has become the standard of monastic life and prayer around the world.
During my time at the Abbey, I prayerfully reflected upon Benedict’s rule for my own life and its relevance for everyday life. The power of the Rule is that is not just for monks, but it is applicable for ordinary everyday people and the lives they live. If your not a monk, don’t worry about it. Here are a few reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict for the rest of us.
Start with Prayer
Benedict’s Rule is all about prayer. He encourages us to pray before we start any new journey. Prayer is the foundation of our faith in God. Whatever we do in life, we should begin it with prayer. Prayer is as essential to the spiritual life as air is to our lungs or water is to the body. For that reason, there is nothing more universal than the practice of prayer. If you think about it, prayer is one of the practices that Christians share in common around the world.
Benedict’s Rule begins with the admonition, “Listen carefully.” We live in a wordy world where words have virtually lost their meaning. This is due in part to an overabundance of words. You can’t escape them because they are everywhere. Words in print. Words on signs. Words on billboards. Words on TV, computer, Facebook, Twitter, text messages: need I go on? Benedict reminds us to be slow to speak and to open the ears of our heart to hear what the Lord is saying in our midst.
Work As Unto the Lord
Benedict’s Rule emphasizes the importance of work. Work is not just something we do for a living, but our work is sanctified and made holy when we do it unto the Lord. Benedict knew the importance of doing our work with all of our heart and soul as an act of worship to God. Whatever you do it with all your heart (Col. 3:23).
Walk in Humility
Benedict’s Rule encourages the monks to walk in humility. Humility means to empty oneself. Humility is a fruit of the Spirit and a hallmark of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Jesus Christ is our great example of gentleness and humility. Being God, He humbled himself to becoming one of us (see Philippians 2). Benedict reminds us of this long forgotten fruit of Christlikeness.
Walk in Obedience
Benedict’s Rule emphasizes the importance of obedience. We live in an individualistic culture where youth and adults beat to the sound of the their own drum. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do. As Christians we are called to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to submit to His authority in our everyday lives. Benedict’s Rule reminds us that we are called to live a life of obedience to the Lord (1 Sam. 15:22).
Feed on the Psalms
At the heart of Benedict’s Rule is the central role of the reading and praying the Psalms. The Psalms have been the prayer book for God’s people since before the time of Christ. Author Eugene Peterson said, “The Psalms were the prayer book of Israel; they were the prayer book of Jesus; they are the prayer book of the church.” They have been a part of the daily rhythm of the church’s Bible reading since its earliest days, and they continue to be an important part of the church’s private and corporate prayer.
At the heart of Benedict’s Rule is biblical hospitality. This is one of the reasons why monasteries open their doors to thousands of strangers every year, to show hospitality. Many Contemporary Christians and churches have lost touch with the Biblical hospitality. It is imperative that we relearn the gift of hospitality, especially in light of its important place in the Scriptures. The word hospitality literally means “love of strangers” and is found several times in the New Testament (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9). St. Benedict reminds us in his rule, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say, “I came as a guest, and you received me.”” We are all called to offer the love of Christ to our guests and welcome them in such a way that they would be transform from strangers into friends.
Practice the Daily Office
Benedict’s Rule established a simple pattern of morning and evening prayer called the “Daily Office.” Many people find that praying the Daily Office helps add a sense of regularity and balance to their prayer life. The Daily Office can help center you in the morning before you begin your busy day, and it can help calm you as you prepare for the hours of the night. Praying through the Daily Office is an enriching way that millions of Christians around the world practice daily devotions. The Daily Office is a meaningful way to begin and end the day in prayer.