Something happened the other day that sent me to the Rule. I wanted to discover Benedict’s thoughts on change and acceptance to answer this question –
How much should we try to rearrange things around us if certain things are not to our liking?
Br Ricky Redecorates
While I was intent on washing my front left paw, I heard this really odd scraping noise. “Scra-a-ape. Sca-a-a-r-a-a-pe.” Turning towards another “Sc-c-c-r-a-a-ape,” I saw Br Ricky, our youngest community member in age and tenure, with paw curled around the top of a cat bed. He was pulling the bed across the floor! Not only that – Br Mickey was in the bed, half asleep and oblivious to his free ride. Since Mickey covered only half of the bed my guess is that
Ricky had been in the bed with Mickey. When Prior John started pumping iron, Ricky had decided that the bed was too close to all this activity and decided to redecorate. In a feat of Herculean strength he moved that cat bed more than a yard! Whoa!
This event got me to thinking about how much we should meddle in things – our surroundings, situations that aren’t to our liking, the behaviors or foibles of other cats…or even the foibles of other people. And so I searched the Rule for Benedict’s thoughts on change and acceptance.
Benedict’s Instructions on Acceptance
In the fourth step of humility Benedict asks us to accept things that are difficult or unfavorable and to be patient. He says we are to “endure it without weakening or seeking escape.” (RB 7.35-36) I know that I’m not good at this. If meals don’t come at the appropriate time I get really annoyed. I turn up to full volume my “alms for the poor – alms for the poor” mew.
Another instruction I found was in the chapter on the Reception of Visiting Monks, RB 61. Here Benedict says that a visitor is not to make excessive demands that upset members of the community but is to be “simply content with what she or he finds.” (RB 61.1-3). Good advice for us as we visit friends and family, right?
These two points got me thinking about Amma Jane.
Amma Jane and Acceptance
Amma needs to reread Benedict’s thoughts and change and acceptance. When Prior John told her about Ricky’s interior redecorating, she couldn’t believe it. I think that she should be a little less incredulous, however, and assess if she is “simply content with what she finds.”
Another case in point – I’ve seen her refolding the towels that John has already folded and put back in the linen closet.
I’ve seen her turn the flame down when he’s cooking tofu scramble. Then I’ve seen her turn the flame up when he’s cooking Chinese in the wok.
I have it from a good source that on her last train ride she changed her seat three times before settling on the “right one.” I know these aren’t big things but I know they aren’t the only things. You know what they say about icebergs. 90% is below the water. Perhaps a tune-up on humility and accepting things as they are might be in order for our abbess.
Making Suggestions the Benedictine Way
Benedict is not saying that you and I should never make suggestions or try to change things. He explains that a “reasonable criticism or observation” may be shared, but the sharing is to be done “with all humility and love.” As you or I are moved to make a suggestion, we are to be motivated less by wanting to control and more by wanting to be helpful and loving. And our suggestions are to be offered gently. Contrary to this, Amma has barked at me for chasing Sr Marcy. This makes my fur bristle and I hiss under my breath. (Note: I am not contrary to the Rule here. Benedict says no grumbling. He doesn’t mention hissing.)
To change this course of behavior contrary to the Rule, Amma needs to reference the great book, Why the Rule of St. Benedict is Not Only for Humans, by Sr Scholastica Muffin, OSB-F (Order of St. Benedict Feline). In it Sr Scholastica quotes Benedictine scholar Terrence Kardong who wrote, “when it [the truth or the suggestion] is proffered ‘calmly and with loving humility,’ it is more palatable.” It sure would be more palatable to me! I might even listen. No one responds well to being barked at!
Steps Towards Acceptance
I think too often we go overboard on our drive to “drag the cat bed” somewhere else, literally and figuratively, when it would have been just fine where it was. It takes humility to decide when and how to step in and make changes or offer observations. First and foremost Benedict encourages us to respect one another. (RB 72.4). This respect can help us remember that there may be more than one way to serve up the cat food.
When I don’t accept things as they are I’m certainly not peaceful inside. Instead I’m forever plotting and scheming about how to change something. Truth is, Ricky looked pretty agitated as he dragged that bed. Besides this, he had to work awfully hard.
The Benefit of Acceptance
Please keep in mind that when we accept something we don’t need to totally like it. We just need to accept the reality that presents itself and maybe not fight against it. When we approach life with an intent to set aside our urges to rearrange whatever we don’t like, we will find opportunities to learn and grow. We experience something new through the acceptance of something that is different or unexpected.
He’s a thought about the benefit of acceptance. What if Br Ricky had stayed in that bed with Mickey, right where it was? He could have discovered that each time John returned the barbell to its holder the resulting clank could become a reminder to be thankful that he had a cat bed at all and a warm friend to share that bed.
So the next time you want to jump in and rearrange something or even someone else’s life, remember Benedict’s thoughts on change and acceptance. Be a little flexible. Pause before you decide to “drag the cat bed”. Be gentle and kind with your observation. My guess is that you will be a lot happier and more fun to be with, too.
Have a wonderful day and remember to give special treats to your animal friends!
Your feline friend,
P.S. Sr. Scholastica Muffin cited Terrence Kardong’s book Day by Day With Saint Benedict (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2005).