Listen, my son, and with your heart hear the principles of your Master.
Who is my Master?
The, almost direct, quoting of the Book of Proverbs must be deliberate.
Hear, my child, your father’s instruction (Proverbs 1:8)
In Proverbs, wisdom is explored in a series of parallels and paradoxes and from what I have read of the Rule it is similar in approach. There is deeply practical pieces of advice but each of these prosaic ‘teachings’ has a subtle challenge to issues of the heart.
As I set out on this journey, I turned to Sister Catherine Wybourne, a Benedictine nun and Twitter user, to ask for her advice on reflecting on the Rule of St. Benedict. Her reply was characteristically wise,
Pray and read. I didn’t speak about RB until I’d lived under it in community for 15 years. Not sure if that’s a tip or a warning!
It would be too arrogant to dismiss the clear instruction of St. Benedict to listen to the human abbot, the earthly father but there is a clear double teaching here, I feel, to see an abbot as an ambassador for God, our heavenly Father. As Benedict continues it is hard to discern when he is talking of following God and when he is talking of necessity to live out the Rule. It is fair to say, however, that I am challenged in this; who is my Master? Who has oversight of my obedience to God to ensure I am not just following my own flights of fancy and desires? Who is my abbot?
Seeking His Kingdom
Throughout the Prologue I see the word ‘Kingdom’ jump out. It reminds me of a comment a dear brother made to me in Advent,
You speak of the Kingdom of God much more than other Anglicans I know. They prefer to speak of the Church.
What he meant was I speak more about growing the Kingdom of God than I do about getting people into church. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Christ’s Church grow but I don’t see that as our main objective. I believe, rightly or wrongly, that the Church will grow when the Kingdom grows. If Christians receive Christ in them when they open the doors of their heart to Him, that same Spirit will seek to unite with itself it will draw us to others who have Christ in them the hope of glory. Christ calls his disciples to be his hands and feet and if we, as individual Christians believe that Christ works through us by His Spirit, we should also believe that others must receive Christ’s Spirit and thus be conduits for His mercy and grace. Why wouldn’t want to be there to see that manifest in the reality of life?
I also don’t think that ‘other Anglicans’ disagree with me on that but I do feel we all fall easily into a trap of speaking about Church much more than Kingdom. We have found a pearl and buried it in a field but now we spend more time protecting and tending the field than we do about remembering the pearl. When the field is threatened we protect it with all our lives. It’s not that we have forgotten about the pearl but it lies in the ground all the while that we are unsure whether it still resides where we buried it or if it has been stolen away already!
I ‘wish to be sheltered in this Kingdom’ to possess the pearl, or rather to let it possess me* and so I ‘ask our Lord (with the prophets),
Lord, who shall live in Your Kingdom? or who shall rest on Your holy mountain? (Psalm 15:1)
Benedict outlines clearly the call to wholehearted commitment to obedience to God’s commandments and ridding ourselves of inner desires to stray from ‘God’s path’. Our response is to ‘prepare ourselves, in body and soul, to fight under the commandments of holy obedience.’ It will not be easy nor can we do this on our own. God becomes, once more our teacher and Master but equally we return to the call to commitments to a community.
Do not fear this and retreat, for the path to salvation is long and the entrance is narrow… Never departing from His guidance, remaining in the monastery until death, we patiently share in Christ’s passion, so we may eventually enter into the Kingdom of God.
The Prologue opens and invites a novice to step in and take on the life-long and life-giving commitment to God. We submit our wills to His in pursuit of knowing His Kingdom born in us and the world which we inhabit. God is our teacher and Master but because we are weak and prone to disobedience He graciously gives us earthly ambassadors who have walked His paths longer than us and thus community centred on a shared seeking of the principles of His Kingdom is necessary in our discipleship.
As I set out, what is God inviting me into? The invitation, for me, is the same as when it first was given: to radically submit to God’s will for my life, moment by moment. To discern that I need to know His voice and humble myself to obedience of His ambassadors and gifts of discipline until His Kingdom is established here amongst us.
Father and Master, I submit. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Place me with whom Thou wilt. Gather Your people around me that I might be defended within the Body of Christ. Defended from ‘the tortures of Hell’ and from myself.
Come, Lord Jesus.
*This idea is explored by Peter Rollins in ‘Advent’ in his book, How (not) To Speak Of God (London: SPCK, 2006) p.103-108