Thursday, September 01, 2005


Back in my days at college I wrote a mid-course paper on the concept of obedience in the Rule of Saint Benedict and its worth and application today. It was one of the papers I loved the most, I found the subject enthralling. What's more I loved so much of what I read in the rule. Benedict's humble attitude was insightful and wholly practical and it both inspired, encouraged and challenged me. In fact, I've made use of his examples a few times, one of those being in the holding of a 'Silent Breakfast' (learning actively consider one another) with some of the youth from my church. The other prominent thought that remains with me is his teaching on the Aboot, and how the monks are to serve, and be obedient to, him. There is indeed some great teaching on the subject of obedience, submission and faith with that book.

Apart from the Rule, I had to turn to other authors for research and one of those authors was a lady called Esther De Waal. She was someone who seemed to have been captivated by Benedict's writings, she wrote well and I enjoyed reading what she had to say. Well, only last week I came across one of her pieces online. It took me back a little to those days in college, and reminded me of what I enjoyed so much about the Rule and St. Benedict.

"When I first picked up the Rule one sentence leapt out at me. It was that statement in chapter 31 which discusses the role of the monastic cellarer, what we might call the business manager. Benedict tells us to handle the things of the kitchen, the pantry, the garden, with as much love, reverence and respect as the sacred vessels of the altar.

Now, in those days I was extremely busy with four boys, ages 12 to 17, and a husband in public life. I was trying to do a little historical work, when I could fit it in while running a vast house. If I tell you there were 47 stone steps in the spiral staircase leading to the top of the house and that the house had not been modernized in any great way, you will realize that life there could be quite hard.

I trust you can understand that I received this vivid text about the cellarer as a wonderful word. I was on a visit to Africa when I came across it. I was "moozingoo," which means feeling an enormous amount of pressure whirling about. I also was still a victim of a religious upbringing which told me that what God really wanted from me was that I should say a lot of prayers. I had the idea that the more uncomfortable they were and the more I suffered the more God was pleased. At one point, I determined to pray longer and in greater discomfort than my younger sister. Going to church, reading religious literature, giving up sugar during Lent, giving my savings to the mission field-- that's what God was looking for. There was no idea in my upbringing that God would be pleased if I helped my mother in the kitchen handling ordinary things like the dishes. I had no idea that matter mattered to God and that included my own body. There was no idea that the earth, the ground on which I walked, was an essential part of God's world. There was no sense that creation was important, that God was part of the ordinary and the day-to-day. Without noticing it, I was part of the great dualistic system of the Western world that splits the world between the holy and the profane, the sacred and the ordinary."

If that caught your interest, take at the rest of The Benedictine Charism Today.