Mewsings on the Rule of St. Benedict
Have you ever seen a wild turkey? Jane said that she once saw seven wild turkeys clustered around her bird bath drinking the foul stuff like patrons around a bar. Yuck! After several minutes of liquid refreshment, a couple two lazily wandered off to forage in the pachysandra. One by one companions followed suit until all had meandered across the street and up the hill. I hope no one ended up on a Thanksgiving dinner platter! What struck me in this little account was the disparaging way Jane described turkey behavior—“They lazily meandered away.” I pointed this out and mewed, “What’s wrong with meandering?” I don’t think she heard me because in the middle of my mewing she sprinted off to get back to work. Always in a hurry, I guess.
Unlike the wild turkeys who just come upon what will satisfy them, humans like Jane plot, plan and organize to get somewhere or to achieve something or to do or to have. It doesn’t always satisfy, though, because humans can still be thirsty inside. I think they’ve lost the art of “meandering.” i.e., the art of slowing down and being open to what presents itself.
People can move in a “straight line” towards something—that’s good—but without deviation—that may not be so good. As humans “go for it,” they can wear themselves out trying to keep a straight path or they can miss opportunities along the way. We cats meander. Heading to the cat beds we might see a little bug on the floor. Check it out first. Checking out things like this can be fun and important. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t “stay the course” for then I’d be ignoring the Benedictine promise of stability. Benedict is clear about the goal of the Rule—we live in community and in a way that makes God the center and goal, right? But the course to even this and maybe especially to this, needs to allow for some turns here and there, some stepping off the path to attend to what presents itself in the moment. This is a really important benefit of meandering. When we meander we’re going somewhere, like to the cat beds, but we’re not sprinting in a straight line to get there as fast as we can. We’re flexible, open to what presents itself and enjoying the journey without thinking that it’s only the destination counts. There’s some detachment to where we are on the path.
At first glance, meandering doesn’t seem to be a part of the Rule. My cat friend and Benedictine enthusiast Ricky and I found some directives in the Rule to support life in a meandering fashion rather than the usual human “straight line” approach. We decided that meandering is part of the promise of obedience. We’re obedient to what’s here right now which may not be something on our “to do” list but which may be something our Loving Creator would like us to see or to do, like give up a favorite chair to a tired cat. Listening and looking, we are attentive and responsive to what presents itself. Then, in Chapter 5 – Obedience, Ricky found that if we’re occupied with a task and are asked to do something else we should drop our own task then and there and do what is asked of us. (RB 5.7-8) Ricky explained that the porter at the door of the monastery and even the abbot or prioress leave whatever they’re doing to greet and tend to the needs of monastery guests. (RB 53 and 66)
Benedict also believes in the importance of doing what needs to be done calmly and without distress so he makes sure people have the help they need (31.7, 35.3). I think calmness is a part of meandering. It’s like those little creeks you see out in the country that bend this way and that. They get the water to where it’s supposed to go but do it in a gentle way. Benedict wants us to have a calm heart while we do what we need to do, even when we’re busy. I think a calm heart is also a part of meandering as we know and trust God to help us “get the water to wherever it needs to go” even if we step off our programmed path.
I hope this encourages you to slow down and to dabble in a little meandering. I really think you’ll feel better about life. And if you forget, I bet you one can of turkey and giblets that you’ll remember when the turkey appears at your Thanksgiving table next month. Jane probably won’t remember, though—she’ll be eating tofu turkey. Yuck!!
Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day.
P.S. for those of you who read my article in the last issue, we didn’t have to go to the animal hotel in September. John found a really nice young woman who came to the house twice a day to give us food, water and brushes. She really liked us and I was SO HAPPY that the trauma of try to catch my friend Ricky didn’t happen.
© October, 2012 Randy the Cat