Mewsings on the Rule of St. Benedict
I have a question for you today. Where do you need to change the most?
I’ve observed a few things…and more…in this household that warrant an opportunity for change. Here’s one. John will bring something to Jane’s attention, perhaps a tidbit of constructive criticism or a complaint or two. In a flurry of defensiveness with figurative fur standing on end, Jane responds with a statement like, “Well, you do that, too.” My ears flatten because I know what’s coming. John then counters, “Do you always have to have the last word?” to which Jane retorts, “Sounds like you just gave the last word.” Etc., etc., etc. Needless to say, after nearly 21 years you think they’d have figured out how to handle these encounters in a more constructive way! I envision Benedict holding hands over ears with mouth a gape!
After one such encounter, Jane confessed to me as she spooned out our dinner that she needed to find a better way to deal with John’s comments and her reactions. I was happy to hear this and made a paw note to get Mickey’s help in culling the Rule after dinner so we could offer suggestions to Jane.
Mickey and I found a ton of positive ways to be in relationship and decided to offer the cellarer as a model for Jane to follow. The cellarer is the individual who distributes the goods and food of the monastery to community members. Benedict says that the cellarer is to be “wise, mature in conduct, temperate…and not proud, excitable or offensive.”(RB 31.1) and is not to annoy members of the community (31.6). If a request—or for Jane, a comment—seems unwarranted, he or she is not to respond in distain but to instead be reasonable (31.7). Benedict says that “a kind word is better than the best gift” (RB 31.14 and Sirach 18:17). I really like that. A goal is not to cause the other person distress. He also says that above all the cellarer must be humble (31.13). Mickey and I decided that, bottom-line, the cellarer looks at the bigger picture of relationships and finds ways to let peace be the quest and aim (Prologue 17).
In Why the Rule of St. Benedict is Not Only for People by Scholastica Muffin, O.S.B.F. (Order of St. Benedict Feline) the wise sister explains that peace “in the Benedictine sense is tacita conscientia, the quiet mind” that is “a stranger to murmuring and complaining”[i] (RB 4.35). My thought is that this quiet mind comes from not pushing our own agenda. (I try to do this but it’s hard since I find my agenda is usually the right one!) Anyway, Sr. Scholastica also reminds us that we need to have a positive attachment to Jesus in order to let go of our self-will[ii], the smaller “I,” that makes us act from our emotions or our egos. Obedience is following Jesus in our relationships and not our self-will. It takes real humility. Remember, Jesus was no patsy – he was forthright and firm with his enemies. We need not be doormats but we aren’t to be reactive.
So what does all this mean for Jane and for the rest of us who see a need for change in our relationships? I think it means to respond in kindness, to be obedient to the moment and to consider also that there may be a even a teeny shred of truth in any comment or observation someone else may offer to us. I’m also going to remind Jane that the way she responds can connect her to God’s grace or block that grace. It takes patience, both with herself and with John or other folks. And remember the good zeal we are to have…
“This, then, is the good zeal which members [and all of us] must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other.” (Romans 10:12 and RB 72.3-4)
Have you thought about what or how you need to change? Maybe it’s what Jane is working on or maybe it’s something else. The possibilities are endless. Where can you step aside and consider the bigger picture so that healing change can take place? May I offer to you the example of the cellarer. I think it’s the best model especially because the cellarer hands out the food!
Thanks for reading my article. See you soon.
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