Benedictine Spirituality for Evangelicals

I read widely in the history of Christian spirituality. I seek to integrate the best practices from my reading and reflection. As many of you know, I am especially indebted to the wisdom of Ignatius and the Jesuits. That way of spiritual formation (as well as education, leadership and organizational management) is profoundly impactful on the DNA of Leadership ConneXtions International.

There are other people who have shaped me a great deal, and one of them who has a place of real significance is St. Benedict and the Benedictine Order. You can get a very inexpensive copy of the Rule of St. Benedict. I recommend the translation by Anthony Meisel, although any translation will be satisfactory. The Rule itself is short and you could read it at one sitting.

Here are some of the features about Benedictine spirituality that I find helpful as an evangelical.

1.  A Spirituality of Order
Benedict abhored the chaos of the disintergating Roman world and he created a way of monastic community that stood against the prevailing chaos. Benedict understood (as did Augustine) that the spiritual life will always tend toward decay and disorder and that a "Rule" or "Regula" is not only useful, but rather, essential to withstand spiritual entropy. Benedict helps me order my disciplines and pathways and time to practice them. The Hours of Prayer are one of the great "rhythms" that Benedictine "ordered" in his community. The same for the reading of the Psalms.

2.  A Spirituality of Community
Benedict knew the spiritual life is deeply communal and relational. His way is not the way of the hermit in isolation. A community comes together in worship, work, prayer, reading, study, decison making. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a similar model in his book - Life Together, when he created an "underground seminary" during the time of Nazi Germany. Benedict encourages me to be highly intentional about a community of spiritual formation.

3.  A Spirituality of Humility and Obedience
Both these virtues are central to the Benedictine way. Neither of these virtues are popular among Christians today. Without them  spiritual community will not endure. While they are not sufficient, they are necessary. Every member is humble toward one another. For Benedict, the leaders of the commumity must be the exemplary practice of humility. Then, in that context, the members of the community move into a trusting obedience, to leadership and to the Rule of the Community as it is interpreted for the community. We live in a cultural season of narcissism, independence, self-sufficient autonomy and the assertion of our rights. Not only do those things work against true community, they work against real spirituality (for the individual). Benedict helps me be counter-cultural in these practices and thus offers me the hope of a personal journey of integrity and doing the same with spiritual companions.

4.  A Holistic Spirituality
For Benedict - PRAYER, WORK & LEARNING were held together in a dynamic interplay. One was not more important than the other. Each was necessary. Each made the other more powerful. Benedict was so holistic and biblical in his understanding that he coud say, "To work is to pray." How refreshing this is. I hear a constant diatribe (complaint) against work. Work is regularly devalued and diminished in the spiritual life. The way we talk about rest sets it as opposed to work. Too many speak as if our problem is a lack of rest. I would say it is a lack of True Work. The answer to Bad Work is not - NO Work. The answer is to Redeem Work. Pray, work, study together in community with others. This is what delights the heart of God and this is what leads the seeker into the heart of God. Later Ignatius would add one more upgrade to the balance of contemplation and action - but that is for another post.

There are certainly other aspects of Benedictine spirituality, but these are four things that I need. Benedict is a helpful guide for this evangelical.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International