This book entitled “Monastic Wisdom” was written in 1999 by Hugh Feiss, a Benedictine Monk. If you find God and all things spiritual appalling you might want to skip this. However, thinking about and applying this wisdom in your life gives you a powerful weapon for dealing with suffering and malevolence.
As I write this it is Christmas Day 2019. It seemed an appropriate book to discuss on this Christian holy day. As Hugh says in the introduction, the Benedictine tradition “…has something to teach men and women of all walks of life about how to live wisely and joyfully, how to budget time, how to get along together, how to walk gently on the earth.” I would add or hike.
Benedict separates the day into three activities. These are work, prayer, and reading. Well, I have two out of three down. Hugh says the “Rule of Benedict conveys a sense of urgency: one must hasten and run toward the goal of everlasting life. The goal is precious; there is no time to waste getting there.” I sure don’t want to rush things when it comes to death, but maybe he is saying something different.
Laced in and between those primary activities it is important to make time for mutual support and help. We all can take a lesson from that and make time to support one another. Hugh says,” …after God, other persons are the most important realities in our lives. If we are too busy to make time for people who need us, whether they are strangers or neighbors, there is something wrong with our priorities.”
If you don’t pray you can skip this, but if you pray even once in a while this is a section of the book worth reading. The first thing that jumped out at me was the statement that “…lack of concentration at prayer is a sign that our minds are too cluttered.” I really need some work in this area.
Then he quotes Monks from the past about prayer. They are lengthy and I suggest that you read the book if interested. Hugh suggests that there are three important things to remember about prayer: that it is a means of “self-offering,” and that it is a part of life. He says, “One brings one’s activities and concerns to times of prayer; one slips short prayers into the intervals that occur in working and walking and weeding. In the end, prayer is about awareness of the divine presence, and that presence is everywhere.”
He says the first thing to decide is whether you will devote yourself to reading and the second is what to read. As a Benedictine, he suggests the Bible and early church writers. Of course, I would add for regular folks that they should read from all disciplines so that their “map of the world” is closer to the actual territory.
Just to give you an idea from the Rule of Benedict regarding the importance of reading, here is a snippet: “ During Lent, they should each receive a book from the library that they are to read straight through to the end.” And from the Life of Wulfstan, “At Wulfstan’s table, edifying books were read. Silence was rigorously kept so that all might listen attentively. When the meal was over and the eating place quiet, he would explain what had been read in their native tongue, so that he could provide heavenly alms for those to whom he had already served bodily sustenance.”
And here is an admonition to me. It was like it was written just for me. It is from “Mirror For Monks,” by Louis De Blois. “Do not imitate those who follow no order in their reading but are content to read whatever reading chances to come their way. They are interested in nothing except what is new and unheard of. Whatever is familiar and everything old, however useful, bores them. Avoid such instability, for it does not build the spirit but scatters it.” He is describing me to a tee! My only defense is that it is better I read than not read and I know many who do not. Yes, a flimsy excuse.
There are so many wonderful sections on this subject. Silence was important in Monastic tradition. Hugh says, “The principal enemy of interior and exterior silence for most of us is our tongue.”
There is one quote that stood out for me. It is from Esther De Waal’s “A Life-Giving Way.” She says, “ …When God’s voice is drowned out by incessant clamor, whether inner or outer, in whatever shape or form, then continuous dialogue with God becomes impossible. An inner monologue with myself, constant chatter with others, the invasion of the spoken word through the press or television are all the ever-present realities in my daily life over which I need to exercise some sort of discipline if I am to keep any quiet inner space in which to listen to the Word.”
There is so much more in the book on peace, patience, stability, obedience, authority, longing and love. It is a great resource for wisdom in all these areas.