Saturday, June 18, 2016

London Busses And The Rule of St Benedict

Like London busses because as soon as one blog post is writ, another comes along on quick succession!

I have been coming on retreat to Alton Abbey for a few years now, and I have been enriched and fed (both physically and spiritually) there. The first time I spent time with the Brethern, what struck me and continues to draw me back there, was the warmth of their welcome, the depth of the spirituality, the quality of the silence and space, that it really felt like I had come home.

Since my initial visits, I have felt deeply called to the Way of Life as taught by St. Benedict.

I have been pondering on for a while what it is that resonates so much for me and in my about the Benedictine way. This is not intended to be my final word on these things, but just the beginnings of a reflection of the new call that Christ is making on my life.

Since my earliest years as a Christian I have tried to seek out a way following Christ that fed me inwardly. I have looked for spirituality that had, as it were, authenticity and depth as well as enabling me to have a transformative encounter with Christ which has led from 'Lancashire Low Church', through the Evangelical and Chasismatic traditions, to Alt Worship and on into an earthy Catholic Spirituality.

On the way, I have struggled and failed with unstructured daily scripture reading (even making my way through a Gospel could see me diverted onto something else!), a regular 'quiet time', prayer triplets and so on. All of them, for me, felt burdensome. Now some of that was to do with my age, my experience of faith, my experience of life and so on and so on.

It has really only been as I have begun to learn from Benedict that I am finding that depth and authenticity for which I have craved for so long.

So what appeals? A cursory reading of the Prologue of St Benedict's Rule highlight a few things for me:

1. There is a taking seriously the call to obedience to Christ and to imitate His life of holiness.
2. Prayer is the beginning and the end of the matter
Christ speaks of the things of God to us still through Scripture.
3. Spiritual renewal - in every sense of that expression - is key to living the Christian life
4. That 'doing' is good and especially doing good!
5. Actively choosing to live Christ's Way.
6. Recognising that I am and always will be a disciple in the school of the Lord's service.

Pondering on these things, and increasingly inspired by Benedict's teaching about being rooted in a particular place (in my case in a parish) I am exploring becoming an Oblate.

To do this, part of what I need to do is to seek to draw up a simple Rule of Life. Having prayerfully thought about what this might look like, I share with you what may well become mine as I explore this new vocation:

A Working Rule of Life.

Pray - as a cleric I promised that I will say the Daily Office regularly and pray for the people in my care; the church of God everywhere and for the needs of the world. This is I do  and I am fed by the waxing and waning of the liturgical seasons and the rhythm of psalmody and the flow of scripture reading. But I will also find opportunities to give thanks for the simple beauty of a goldfinch in the garden or to remember a person before God as I take Holy Communion to them at home.

Attend Mass regularly - presiding at the Eucharist is a significant part of how I spend much of my time. And when I am not doing it, I am preparing for it by reading scripture and writing sermons. For me at least, meeting Christ in the Eucharist is an utterly transformative experience, and it is from there that I am sent out by Him, filled with grace and the Holy Spirit, to make Him known in word and deed. The Mass is profoundly missional as it calls me to participate in the Missio Dei. It's all in the name.

Visit Alton at leat twice a year on retreat - this won't be too arduous. I aware that I need to me remade by being on retreat. Indeed I write this whilst being away on retreat. Parish ministry is challenging and varied. Jesus took time away from challenging ministry to just be away and to pray. I have been fed and nourished at Alton in so many ways and I anti ate I will continue use to do so. Besides my current Spriitual Director is here. It is not burdensome. During this time I hope I will reflect on this rule and do some much needed self-examination. Is my life pleasing to God? Am I keeping this rule or is it keeping me? Where am I falling short and where can I grow?

Pray for the community regularly - See point above.

Lectio Divina - I discovered spiritual reading of scripture through reading Richard Foster's books. Since then it has been a regular part of my own spiritual discipline either  at the Office or certainly during sermon preparation. I love the way Scripture comes alive as we ask God to speak to us though it; to read it slowly and prayerfully; to dwell on words and phrases and wait for the Spirit of God to lead us into prayer though our reading

Read and reflect on the Rule of St Benedict regularly. Since answering this call of Christ on my life I have sought to read and meditate on the Rule of St Benedict most days if I can. There are several books that enable me to do this.

Attend the On Fire Mission Conference annually - St Benedict speaks specifically about spiritual renewal in the Prologue to the Rule. I am not certain that he was meaning Renewal as Charismatic Christians might understand it, but in some sense the principle is correct though. If I am to be a faithful disciple; if I am to be a loving husband and father; if I am to be a good parish priest - I need Christ to continue to transform my nature and will from the inside out. I need to be formed more and more into His likeness. One of the places I find this happens for me is at the On Fire Mission Annual Conference as through it God blends my spiritual traditions with friendships and I am fed.

Continue my vocation to the Sodality of The Holy Spirit - this is a calling that has in part risen out of friendships forged at OFM and elsewhere, but three of us have felt called out to a shared life of  3 charisms: of intentionality (Christ centred discerning, listening and acting), missional living (being an active part of God's mission and actively seeking spiritual and numerical growth) and expectancy (believing that God still intervenes and speaks supernaturally.)

Keep my day off weekly and take my allocation of holiday - part of spiritual renewal is Sabbath time. If Jesus can rest, so can I, and Jesus clearly saw rest as key yo his own renewing in ministry. That time is also key to ensuring a healthy relationship with myself, my wife and my kids who are my primary church.

Make space for music and the arts, cycling and walking - again this is about spiritual and personal renewal.

Almsgiving - this isn't about my already designated charitable giving but rather how I give financially and temporally of myself to the welfare and wellbeing of others. It is a witness to the self-giving love of God in Christ and an act of justice to and for the poor. This isn't about salving my First World conscience but about actively seeking to make a tangible difference to the world.

I hope to formalise this Rule with the Oblate Master and move to becoming an Probationer Oblate as soon as possible by the grace of God.

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