Down to the top

Several of us will read Steve Macchia’s Crafting a Rule of Life in the next few weeks, and reflect together on our shared life, growth, and ministry in this community. I’ve had some time this week with The Rule of Saint Benedict, who sets out a way together for a different kind of community than the one our academic institution evolved to be, although I find our pattern there.

The rule establishes a rhythm of life and growth together that keeps each member’s life centered in communal prayer. Like the spiritual life in general, it is rigorous, but not cruel. I don’t fear it if I discover that what it offers is worth doing. If I am not already resisting it’s ends, I find the willingness to consider the means. It challenges me, though, if I consider what I’d have to give up too great a cost, or, especially, if I think I could probably make my own way to these ends without having to do it with or for or under the guidance of others.

I think I’m learning that, as it turns out, I cannot. I think this is especially because the fruit of the Spirit is not simply a pleasant disposition, but the building of gifts in us that are fulfilled in expression to others. It’s also because the love of God is for the world we’re in. And, it’s because humility, something I can only grow in my active life with others, is the beginning of this path. For starters, a community gives me something to think about besides me.

…brothers, if we wish to reach the highest peak of humility and soon arrive at the heavenly heights, we must, by our good deeds, set up a ladder like Jacob’s, upon which he saw angels climbing up and down. Without doubt, we should understand that climbing as showing us that we go up by humbling ourselves and down by praising ourselves. The ladder represents our life in the temporal world; the Lord has erected it for those of us possessing humility. We may think of the sides of the ladder as our body and soul, the rungs as the steps of humility, and discipline we must climb in our religious vocation (57).

Benedict goes on to outline these rungs, a good Biblical 12 of them, in a way that my proud mind tends to turn into a downward spiral rather than a heavenly ascent: Obedience, exchanging self-will for God’s will, taking direction, accepting discipline, confessing harmful thoughts and actions, being faithful to my role in the community…. A series of steps that result in the actual outward, bowed appearance that reflects a humbled heart. Not exactly “keep your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds!”

But here is the view from the top:

When a monk has climbed all twelve steps, he will find that perfect love of God which casts out fear, by means of which everything he had observed anxiously before wil now appear simple and natural. He will no longer act out of the fear of Hell, but for the love of Christ, out of good habits with a pleasure derived of virtue. The Lord, though the Holy Spirit, will show this to His servant, cleansed of sin and vice (61).

This is the Liberating King’s view from behind the basin in John 13. In a community that struggles with self-ambition, fear, anxiety, judgment and an addiction to appearances (whether how we look in a tanktop or on a transcript), this is a pretty appealing way to be able to look at the world. This is a pretty remarkable learning outcome from a shared curriculum.

I’m looking forward to a year of trying this out together (thanks, Christine!). May we find the wisdom and courage to build 12 or so rungs into our 12-18 units this semester.

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