“Always we begin again...”~~~John McQuiston II
1. An overview of the six-week course
Watch short film The Rule of St Benedict: An Introduction with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press, 2012)
Questions for discussion
a. Jonathan notes that the Rule proposed an alternative social order in the midst of the Dark Ages. How do you see the patterns and practices of the Rule challenging today's social norms?
b. Why is obedience difficult for us? How does the Rule safeguard against abuses of authority? Why does Benedict think of learning to listen is so important to our growth in Christlikeness?
c. How might the posture of a "spiritual seeker" make us "slaves to our own will?" Why is Benedict concerned about this and what promise does the practice of stability offer?
d. What does the Rule propose as a plan for how we can learn to always be listening to God?
"Benedict spent some time talking about the differences between "wicked zeal" and "good zeal." Consider the following quote from Joan Chittister:
Prayer in Benedictine spirituality is not an interruption of our busy lives nor is it a higher act. Prayer is the filter through which we learn, if we listen hard enough, to see our world aright and anew and without which we live life with souls that are deaf and dumb and blind.
But prayer can be an easy substitute for real spirituality. It would be impossible to have spirituality without prayer, of course, but it is certainly possible to pray without having a spirituality at all. There are business people of our generation, for instance, who go to prayer breakfasts regularly and then raise interest rates on Third World debts and increase mortgage rates on housing loans and refuse aid to farmers but easily advance money to munitions companies. There are people who go to prayer groups and never give a cent to the poor. And there are monastics who go to chapel and forget that the function of reading the gospel is to become a gospel person, not an ecclesiastical hothouse plant.
The fact is that the way Satan gets to the holy person may be through sanctity. "The wicked zeal," Benedict calls it, "which leads to separation from God" (RB 72:1). Even sanctity, we're being warned, can become a barrier to growth. Unless we can hear the needs of the other as well as the words of our favorite prayers, the prayer itself may be worth nothing more than hypnotic hollowness. It may make us feel like good people, but it will hardly make us better people."
When you come back next Sunday, be prepared to discuss the nature of prayer, and whether there's a difference between what people think of as prayer and what is or would be considered true prayer. Next Sunday's lesson will be about humility. What did Jonathan say humility was, and how does it relate to true prayer?