Laura Merzig Fabrycky wrote this blog originally for The Washington Institute, and asked if we can post it on our website. These are her reflections after co-leading the retreat on “Rhythms and Vocation: An Experiential Introduction to the Rule of St. Benedict” on February 22, out at Corhaven. For more information about The Washington Institute, which made the retreat possible, click here. For the original post, click here.
Last weekend, Bill Haley, TWI’s Director of Spiritual Formation, and I had the privilege of leading a group of retreat participants, thoughtful fellow pilgrims, in an experiential introduction to the Rule of St. Benedict. This monastic legislative document had a profound influence on the cultural formation of medieval Europe and Western monasticism. Increasingly, in recent years, it’s lay people – Protestant and Catholic – who are finding true help from Benedict’s rule for its wise, practical rhythms that form a recognizably human life which is also submitted to Christ.
(Important Aside: If you have yet to explore the resources available through Bill and Tara Haley’s life and work at Corhaven, do. Run, don’t walk, to their website to learn more. With the season Lent just around the corner, now is a great time to more intentionally pursue how you will seek God, in solitude and with others, and allow him greater reign in your life.)
The majority of us gathered together were lay people, as was Benedict himself and as were most of his monks, with vocations in the world. We ventured across time and international boundaries, as it were, into the tumultuous life of the late Roman Empire, in all its political upheaval and social decay. We recalled that moment in history for the church of that time, riven with the controversies of heresy.
Benedict’s world gives us no room for nostalgic pining; his Christian life was formed in the midst of cultural instability and a spiritual disorientation that we in our twenty-first century world might find familiar.
Together, we sought to follow a Benedictine day, guided by the rhythm of prayer, study, and work, and exploring the vows of obedience, stability, and conversatio morum (or, a continual conversion of life). This rhythm and these vows acknowledge our fully-orbed human life – spiritual, intellectual, and physical – as well as our common human “incapacities,” viz., our stubborn allegiance to our own wills, our tendency to run from the demands of love, and our proclivity to spiritual inertia.
There were moments of true surprise for our group in this day-long “experiment.” We were startled by the power of observing a mere 10 minutes of silence at the beginning of our shared lunch. We were struck by how healing it was to simply listen to each other eat, hearing the clinking spoons on bowls, while refusing to fill space with chit-chat and chatter. In our “work” session, we marveled at the gift of work, how God gives us work and how delightful it to accomplish tasks that challenge us. We gave thanks for the use of our bodies in that work, whether we were hauling a log up a hill or kneading dough in the kitchen.
Lent is nearly here, and Christian throughout the world will be entering that holy space together, seeking God, clearing out the dead wood and spiritual disorder that has accumulated in life, and finding that God is more than capable of kneading out our stubborn, sinful knots. What is your intention in this season of Lent? What might God be asking of you? What sins to acknowledge, confess, and flee from? What disciplines to embrace?
Most importantly, our friend Benedict asked of us, together: What is your rule of life? How do you allow the work of God to interrupt your own work, day by day?
You may discover that Benedict is worth befriending this season, as we found him to be on this delightful retreat.