Adventures on the Spiritual Path

Benedict of Nursia and the Cup of Poison, image from

This week, I am teaching a course called "Pathways of the Spirit," in which we are exploring five (plus a few extra) spiritual writers from the middle ages.  We began Monday with Benedict of Nursia and Benedictine spirituality  I hope to do a little series of blog posts, chronicling the insights of our journey through the history of spirituality.  So, we begin with Benedict!

Benedict lived around the year 500.  What is so amazing is that he wrote a document that remains to this day the guide of life for monks around the world.  It is a simple document, with an ideal vision of Christian life but a realistic view of the challenges of being human.  It offers flexibility to account for the different needs of people and groups.  This quotation comes from the prologue:
Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord's service.  In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.  The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.  Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation.  It is bound to be narrow at the outset.  But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.

This "school for the Lord's service," not really a school at all, but yet a context in which we learn to live a new way, is founded on that love, strict only in order to draw us into loving service of God and others.  The imagery is so helpful here--that we need a place where we are safe to learn, to grow, to become more human and more godly.  A "school" that recognizes that if it is too difficult, we will want to turn away, and yet if it is too easy we will never move along the pathway at all.

This can be said of any form of religious life!  And probably of any way of life, as long as those in it are aware of their orientation toward God.

I was also reminded of something one of my RSCJ sisters said to me not too long ago.  I've been having a hard time, with some health issues and the transition into temporary vows after the noviceship.  This sister gave me a big hug and said to me (on the Feast of the Sacred Heart!), "It keeps getting better.  It gets worse first, and then it gets better and better."  How I needed to hear that!  Both that life gets easier, and yet also that it's okay that things get hard sometimes.  The path is narrow at first, but eventually we can run along it, "hearts overflowing."

Those are my scattered reflections for today! 

One last thing.  The image above comes from Benedict's life story, which was written by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century.  The story portrayed has to do with with a potential poisoning.  Benedict was asked to become the abbot of a group of monks, and they didn't get along so well.  In fact they got on so poorly that the monks tried to poison their abbot!  Twice, the poison was revealed to Benedict and he was spared.  But, of course, he moved on from that monastery.


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