Friday, November 30, 2012

How to be a monk – Lesson three: Balance

It is possible that there are some people today who don’t dream about having a more “balanced” life but I don’t think I’ve met any of them.  The longing for “balance” seems to be a deep, heartfelt theme for many people.  Many of these people also see balance as an integral part of Benedictine life and spirituality.
I wonder whether people have taken much time (have much time?) to really think through what this “balanced” life would look like.  Perhaps for many people it is simply being less out of control, having a little more time for God and family and being less consumed with work and busyness.

All of these are very worthy goals but are they really Benedictine, monastic goals?  Benedict never uses the word balance in his Rule and if we look closely at the schedule he sets out for his monks we would probably blanch.  Benedict has his monks pray eight times a day, do two to three hours of individual prayer (lectio) every day as well as work in the field, do kitchen duty and all the various chores that make up everyday life.  Basically Benedict had his monks praying most of the day, either in chapel or in their private prayer times.  Most modern people are not looking for a “balanced” life that looks like the extreme prayer schedule of Benedict’s monastery.

But perhaps as modern people we miss the point of what Benedict was trying to do.  Benedict created an outward structure in the monastery in which people had to drop everything, interrupt their busy day and go to prayer eight times a day.  He had them devote prime hours of the day to their personal prayer.  Life in Benedict’s monastery was about constantly interrupting daily activities in order to prayer.  What was the result for his monks of this constant interruption day after day, year after year?  Perhaps eventually the habit of prayer would become so internalized in his monks that everything became prayer.  Eventually monks would no longer need to go to chapel to pray, they would no longer need to have scheduled times of lectio to have their personal prayer.  They would still do it, but the monks would come to see all of life as a constant prayer, a continual attitude of awareness of the presence of God.

Perhaps this is the true nature of Benedictine balance.  Balance isn’t about more time for things we like or even more time for prayer and God, it is about a life in which faith and our awareness of the presence of God permeates absolutely everything we do.  Balance is who we are, people who are aware of God in everyone we meet, everything we do, in all our thoughts, words and actions.

Balance is indeed a gift of Benedictine spirituality today, but it is a gift of living a life in which there is no longer a distinction between God, faith and the rest of our lives.

No comments: