Monday, September 5, 2011

Book: "The Rule of Benedict"

TITLE: The Rule of Benedict - A Spirituality for the 21st Century
AUTHOR: Joan Chittister
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Crossway Books, 2010.

The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (Spiritual Legacy Series)
This book is a modern refreshing look at an ancient spiritual guide used by Christian monks in the 5th and 6th centuries. The author, herself a distinguished student and teacher of Benedictine spirituality, weaves in an impressive understanding of Benedict's Rules with an insightful appreciation of modern living. For a book that is 1500 years old, it still speaks to us living in a modern culture that prides on 'progress.' She notices that the technological society that we are in have trained us to be a throwaway culture, where we constantly upgrade to new stuff and throw away the old, despite the latter being functional. She criticizes the consumer society that fails to search for the real God, choosing instead to look for gods among things. The main question Chittister poses is this:

"What meaning, if any, can this Rule possibly have for average people of our day who grapple daily with a culture awash in the transitory and the tenuous, in superficiality and confusion?" (Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict - A Spirituality for the 21st Century,  NY: Crossway, 2010, xi)

Calling the Rule a form of wisdom literature, it basically implies timeless applications from a great tradition. Chittister's reasons for using this ancient document for modern times are as follows:
  • Against 'transcience and distance,' the Rule stresses the 'need and nature of real community.' (xiii)
  • Against 'secularism,' the Rule emphasizes prayer and the rhythm of it; (xiii)
  • Against separating creation from human living, the Rule ushers in greater respect for life, to encourage better stewardship; (xiii)
  • Against 'random and state violence,' the rule brings 'quality and reverence' that leads toward peace; (xiii)
  • Against arrogance of the eveloped world, the rule teaches humility that all peoples have a right to the basics of life; (xiv)
  • Against working for money, the Rule teachers one to work for the sake of God's will for all of creation; (xiv)
  • Against aimless leisure, the Rule works toward sense of contemplative living to enable us to 'see the world as God sees' it. (xiv)
"The basic contentions of this book, then, are clearly two: first, that Benedictine spirituality deals with the issues facing us now - stewardship, relationships, authority, community, balance, work, simplicity, prayer, and spiritual and psychological development. Its strength, therefore, is that it is both fresh and ancient, current and tried at the same time. Second, its currency lies in the fact that Benedictine spirituality offers more a way of life and an attitude of mind than it does a set of religious prescriptions." (xiv)

In summary, the author views the Rule of Benedict as one that is not merely concerned with a particular place, time, church, or ministry, but one that is concerned for living throughout many generations, including ours. Chittister structures this book to be read three times through the year. In other words, from Jan-May, May-Aug, and Sep-Dec, this book can be read like a devotional, with Chittister's insightful commentary to guide one's spiritual thoughts.

My Comments
This book is like a commentary and devotional combined. In the former, Chittister gives insights of what the Rule says as well as it modern applications. In the latter, the author supplies rich meaning to direct us toward God. The Rule covers wide aspects of life, all of them centering on God as the purpose for living. It helps maintain clarity in our modern minds about the meaning of life.

I like the first posture of the Rule, which is to 'listen.' Far too often, we stumble over ourselves because of our haste and hurry to do things faster and faster, something without much measured consideration. All spirituality begins in the Holy Spirit, and we learn through listening. Being aware of God's presence reveals who we are. Being mindful of our responsibility helps us discharge our stewardship of creation better.

"... life is very short. To get the most out of it, we must begin to attend to its spiritual dimensions without which life is only half-lived. Holiness is in the now, but we go through life only half conscious of it, asleep or intent on being someplace other than where we are. We need to open our eyes and see things as they exist around us: What is valuable and what is not, what enriches and what does not, what is of God and what is not." (23)
There are three reasons why I like this book.

1) It Clarifies
In a world that assumes it knows what is best, often we stumble over our own follies when we mistake them for wisdom. We think we are smart alecks when we are not. The Rule brings us back to reality, that we need God as our starting base.

2) It Applies
This book is a very practical book. Daily, the reflections lead to contemplative prayer. Prayer leads to good works. Without making the Rule too unwieldy or difficult to comprehend, the author places snippets of the Rule, enough to jiggle the mind, and to prepare the heart. Sometimes, the Rule reads like the wisdom books of the Bible, like Proverbs.

3) It Promotes Community

This is perhaps the biggest benefit. The Rule is a classic work on how to build communities. In an Internet world, connecting millions of people around the world, the problem of loneliness and isolation remains. For all the technological advances, science is still not able to bring together people as well as God can.  We cannot depend on technologies to build community. Fact is, the best technologies cannot build perfect communities. Perfect communities can help build the best technologies. That is not the main point. The main point is that communities are necessary, and we need to be reminded and be disciplined about being intentional about community building. The Rule is a brilliant work on community building. This is the best reason to get this book.


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