Friday, June 26, 2009

The Rule in 2 words. A Benedictine oblate blog

CSIRO Parkes radio telescope

In some ways, the Rule of St. Benedict might be thought of as springing from two concepts, listening and stability. If asked to summarize the Rule in two words, I would use “Listening and Stability.”

Listening is theological and vertical in the sense of the relation to God. Stability is practical and horizontal in the sense of the relation of monks and nuns to their community -- their family.

From the basic principle of “listening” flows the Rule’s chapters on the divine office, 8 to 19; shortness of prayers, 20; and lectio divina, 48; for example (1) — all part of “seeking God” (quaerere Deum (2)).

We might say that the monastic life begins with listening — not asking God to hear us, not wondering how and under what conditions God will “answer our prayers.” The first word of the Rule places its readers in the mode of listening to the divine call.

When one moves from speaking to listening, we are seeking a new world — we seek monastic stillness — we turn down the volume of the world — we want to declutter our lives so we are free to devote all attention to listening. The contemplative life comes from listening.

From the basic principle of “stability” flows the Rule’s chapters on how to live in a monastery under the authority of an abbot. The monastic enclosure marking the boundary between the monk’s life and the world serves to ground stability to a particular place. The Rule’s guidance on living in harmony and without the poison of murmuring tracks back to the idea of monastic stability.

Stability is the first of the Benedictine vows from chapter 58 of the Rule. Monks and nuns make a vow of stability, conversatio morum (fidelity to monastic life) and obedience. It is sometimes said that this is a single constellation of one monastic vow (as distinguished from three separate vows). But you will often hear monks speak about three Benedictine vows.

In summary, do listening and stability operate in different dimensions as the vertical and horizontal descriptions suggest? No, not at all. Such distinctions may even make some Benedictines cringe -- and rightfully so. Listening and stability are not separate concepts. They are linked and assist each other. That's the Benedictine way.

Listening gives direction and substance to how to be stable in a community and why it is important in the first place. Stability leads to the quiet life of conversatio morum — the necessary fidelity to a monastic life centered on listening to God.

For lay people like an oblate following the Rule of St. Benedict much of the power found in listening and stability is readily applicable to life in a family, in a home, outside the walls of a monastery. Many lay people pray the divine office and practice lectio divina. In addition to being Lord and savior, Christ is a fine abbot for any family.



Picture is CSIRO Parkes radio telescope in Parkes, Australia. The telescope was made more famous in the movie, "The Dish" which is one of my favorites.

From the Parkes' web site: "The CSIRO's Parkes Observatory is celebrating the International Year of Astronomy and the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. On 21 July 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the surface of the Moon. This remarkable achievement was the realisation of a long held dream of mankind. The television pictures of this historic event were received by the CSIRO Parkes telescope and relayed to 600 million people or 1/5th of mankind at the time."

(1) For explanations of these terms see divine office, reading, and lectio divina.



  1. Dear Oblate Blog,

    Just found your site and blog. It was linked to Sr. Vicki’s website at this address.

    Your RB in 2 words post was very interesting. I maintain a blog and several of the contributors to my blog got together for dinner about six weeks ago. During dinner, the conversation turned to summarizing the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament in two or three words.

    One person said:
    HB: You are mine.
    NT: I am yours.

    HB: Walk with me.
    NT: Follow me.

    I shared a link to your blog with them. So be careful, traffic from these folks might increase your Analytics by four or five visitors. LOL. We are a small bunch.

    God bless you on your Oblate journey and in life and love. It is a path I still consider.

    De colores!

    Tony D.
    The Lighthouse Keeper

  2. John, thanks for a very succinct, well-thought post. I would add that I think that the Eastern Christian concept of "hesychia" (lit. "stillness")resonates strongly with the Benedictine concept of "listening".

  3. Tony,

    Thank you for your comment. My wife and I liked those two and three-word summaries of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. We talked about them today — those summaries helped us see the whole picture more clearly. Your contributors’ dinner fed us well too.

    We see Cursillo groups at St. Leo Abbey, Florida, several times a year. They always seem enthusiastic — not that the general mood of other groups is not — but the Cursillistas have a little extra smile for those they meet — like my wife and I when we were there to pray with the monks. We liked their outgoing nature. I had heard of the Cursillo Movement before, but it was after seeing them at St. Leo Abbey that I found the national site and read about the group.

  4. Joe,

    Thank you for the kind words.

    I agree 100% with your comment about the Eastern “hesychia” resonating with Benedict’s “listening.” Your comment illustrates why it is so important to study Eastern Christian monasticism — virtually every “Benedictine” concept came from and receives a fuller light from the East. And, “hesychia” is a perfect example. For those reading this comment, you can read more about “hesychia” at Joe’s “The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic blog” in his blog about Thomas Merton on the Jesus Prayer where he explains the term “hesychia.”