The Benedictine Art of Meandering

by Br. Randy OSB-F

A keen observer of human and feline behavior, a faithful follower of The Rule of St. Benedict, and an influential member of the Feline Cloister. In June 2013, Randy succumbed to lymphoma. He is dearly missed. His articles are offered here as his legacy to us. May he, along with our other departed animal friends, enjoy romping in the Paradise Cloister.

Have you ever seen a wild turkey? Abbess 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 turkeys wandered off to forage in the pachysandra.  Masters in the art of meandering, the remaining turkey companions followed suit, one by one, until all had strolled 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.

The Fine Art of Meandering

Unlike the wild turkeys who just come upon what will satisfy them, humans like Amma plot, plan and organize to get somewhere or to achieve or to do something.  The problem is sprinting full speed ahead doesn’t always satisfy.  The truth is that humans can still be thirsty inside.  And, as humans “go for it,” they can wear themselves out trying to keep a straight path, missing opportunities along the way.  Most humans have forgotten the art of meandering. They’ve lost the art of slowing down and being open to what presents itself.

Wild Turkeys practicing the art of meandering

We cats are masters in the fine art of meandering. Heading to the cat beds we might see a little bug on the floor.  Check it out first.  Then we might spy a cat toy and meander over to check that out, too.  Then, we hear a confrere mew and wander over to him or her to see what’s going on.

I’m not saying that humans 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—to root in community and follow a way of life that makes God the center of our lives.  But this course must allow 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 in the art 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.  We enjoy the journey without thinking it’s only the destination that counts.  There’s some detachment to where we are on the path.

Meandering in The Rule of St. Benedict

At first glance, the art of meandering doesn’t seem to be a part of the Rule.  However, Br 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 to be  obedient to what’s here right now.  This may not be on our “to do” list, but could really be something our Loving Creator would like us to see or to do.  For example, we may be asked to give up a favorite chair to a tired cat.  Listening and looking, we are attentive and responsive to what presents itself in the present moment.

In addition to this Ricky found a directive that can happen when we’re occupied with a task, like rearranging the blanket in the cat bed.  A Cloister member may come up to us at that very moment and mew that our help is needed.  We  must then and there drop our own task and cheerfully do what is asked of us. (RB 5.7-8)  Ricky found that the porter at the door of the monastery and even the abbot or abbess 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.  To this end 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.

Give the Art of Meandering a Try!

Wild turkeys meandering in the present moment

I hope this encourages you to slow down and dabble a little in the art of meandering.  I really think you’ll feel better about life.  And if you forget, I’ll bet you a can of turkey and giblets that you’ll remember when the turkey appears on your Thanksgiving or Christmas table.  However, Amma probably won’t get it – she’ll he’ll be eating tofu turkey.  Yuck!!

Thanks for stopping by.  Have a great day.



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