Less than 48 hours after being commissioned and we were off on retreat to Llangasty. The retreat was led by Bishop Dominic Walker OGS and was based upon the Rule of Saint Benedict. There where seven addresses over a two day period, each focusing on a different area of the Rule. During each address we looked at how that Rule was applied when written and how it is still relevent today and how it can be applied now, three concepts seeped through the seven addresses, humility, hospitality and listening. Each one of these is interconnected as it is impossible to have one on its own – a Community needs all three. It is these three concepts that I find are some of the most central to Christian life as a whole not just within the Benedictine Rule.
Saint Benedict suggests that we need to be humble, but this is not just a case of having low expectations of oneself or offering self-sacrifice, but rather about knowing yourself inside and out, knowing who you are before God, all your strengths and all your weaknesses, and accepting these as they are – applying both to the building up of others around you. Through being humble we open ourselves up to being hospitable, as only when we know our strengths and weaknesses can we truly apply them to the care of others.
Within the rule of Saint Benedict, he writes ‘All who arrive are to be welcomed like Christ’ (Rule of Saint Benedict 53:1). He says this as a reflection on Holy Scripture where Christ says ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matt 25:35). It is from this verse Saint Benedict calls us to see everyone as Christ, Christ lives in us all and we in Him. Our human nature can make this a difficult task, as grievances and arguments occur with people who we perceive to have done us wrong, but Christ did not come so that he may gain the glory, but so He could take on all these wrong doings onto Himself, that we may be washed clean in His blood. He came to show us the Gospel, not to show us himself. He came for each and every one of us individually. So, if God can love a person that much, surely we can. Once we begin to open our hearts in this way, we begin to hear the needs of each other within the silence of our hearts. Through this love of one another we should be able to recognise each others’ needs without having to be asked; this is why Saint Benedict states that the hospitality towards guest should not disrupt the life of the Monk, we should be aware of the guest’s needs so that they may be carried out without disruption. They are to be welcomed. but the must not be put in the way of our relationship with Christ. Silence is a big part of many Religious Communities, which can at first be overpowering, but once it has been explained it is the most refreshing ways of praying we can have.
The first word of the Rule of Saint Benedict is ‘listen’, but it goes much deeper than just listening. We need to take these things into ourselves – they must become part of our very being – we must truly hear the words behind them. This is apparent from the first sentence of the Rule, where Saint Benedict uses a quotation from scripture ‘Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts and incline the ear of your heart.’ (Proverbs 4:20). We must listen with our hearts to the needs of others, this is how we are to be able to know and recognise the needs of our brothers and sisters without a word ever leaving either of our lips, but more importantly we are to listen to ‘our master’s precepts’ – we are to listen to God. We can do this through prayer, Prayer is not just a list of things we want God to know, or a list of things we would like God to help us accomplish, this is part of it, but a small part, Prayer is the way we strengthen our relationship with God, it is a conversation. But conversation doesn’t work if it is only one-sided, we must allow time for God to listen to us and also time for us to listen to God. For many, the silence is deafening, it screams of their true self, the one God created, so they try to hide from it and distract themselves with noise, the noise of the world with music and entertainment, and inner noise, of lists and thoughts of things which need to be done, things that have happened and of comments of who they are in society; but once we have inner silence, we become stripped bare before God, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, this can be scary, here it is that God sees us fully, uncovered and unguarded, our defences are down. This is scary for it is here we are most vulnerable, we fear that our true self is not good enough and may be rejected. But God gazes upon us and loves us for who we are. It is here God sees past all our distraction and sees us more deeply. Here He sees into the desires of the heart, rather than the wants of the mind. He sees what is really needed and all to often it is just to spend time with him, the thing we are afraid of is the thing we need the most, as time goes by it becomes more comfortable in this way, as just like any relationship with friends and family: the more time you spend together the closer you become, each friendship grows with group conversations but it grows more intimate and we became bonded more through one on one conversations there is a need for both. As a true friendship it is the same with God, the importance of both silent prayer and communal prayer must not be underestimated. As our friendships with each other strengthen, it become natural to just be with each other without the need to do, this is the same for our relationship with God.
I found that the retreat house at Llangasty was a perfect place to be reflecting on the Rule as it was our first retreat together as this new community, so it gave us a place where we could just be together but also a place to just be with God, away from all distractions in the peaceful and serene setting that it has, here I was able to reflect on the beauty of the world that God had created for us and see the Love He had put into it for us.
Sister Jennii Shaw