If you are reading along with our group through The Rule of St. Benedict, you may, like me, be starting to feel a bit bogged down by so many rules (sure I know it is called The Rule, and I probably should have expected this, but still a rule can mean a lot of things). I’m a bit of a free spirit myself and order doesn’t come naturally for me. My desk always looks like a pile of trash, my closet is no better, and I’m generally 5 minutes late for most things . So there are moments when I get a little fed up with Benedict and all his rules, yet I’m reminded that all he is setting out to do is establish “an ordered way of life that gave security and stability.” “If there is strictness,” he says it is, “to amend faults and safeguard love.” So here are the questions that I’m chewing on, why is Benedict so set on order, everyone in their place, everything on time, with no room to wiggle? Does order benefit us? Is it something we need? Does it help us know God?
We all have heard that children need order. The more delicate the child the more a structure and a routine seem to soothe them. The natural world too has it’s orders, each day, the seasons, migrations, all seem to happen by the same order. There is something inviting about order. A bar of soap neatly placed in a dish, a book on a shelf arranged just so (arranged but not too perfectly that it makes you are afraid you will ruin something by touching it), order is a way to say, “you are welcome here, we’ve been expecting you, come in and feel comfortable.”
Recently I’ve been thinking, what if order is part of the way we experience God? After-all, God, as He is described in the Old Testament, was pretty set on things being done in a certain way. It has made me wonder, what if we are all headed to chaos and it is only by God’s order that we don’t suddenly collapse into a pile of dust? Of course that is where we are all headed, eventually the systems functioning so smoothly in each of our cells will become too disordered and we will end up decomposing back into the dirt from which we are made.
Our relationships too have these tendencies. We start off with great intentions as husband and wife or parent and child, but with time the chaos begins. And we surprise ourselves by thinking and doing hurtful things that we never imagined we were capable of. Suddenly we are at odds with the people we care for the most.
God has promised to make all things right. And I tend to imagine the perfection that comes with heaven as all of us floating around on clouds playing harps and wearing togas. But what if instead perfection meant that we are all in right relationship with all things, with creation and with each other?
As we are now even the things that we intend for good can end up hurting someone. We can never really know the ultimate result of our actions. But what if instead of heading toward chaos we were headed towards rightness and every word, thought and action worked to the good of ourselves and the people and creatures around us.
This is a picture of life before the fall. We began as a perfect people in right relationship with God and all things, but ended up a people incapable of doing anything perfectly right. Today we can’t even imagine what it is like to be in a completely right relationship with anyone let alone with the entire creation. To borrow one of my husband’s analogies, it is like we were a glass that shattered. Now we are looking down at our fragments trying to put them back together again not even knowing what the original glass looked like.
Traditionally this Thursday is the day the church remembers Jesus being crucified and dying for the world. It is the most somber of nights. Friday we continue to reflect on the hopelessness of the world without a savior. We sit like Jesus’ disciples and wonder if Jesus really is who He says He is. Then on Sunday we celebrate, and this is the most emphatic celebrating that we do all year. We remember that we do have hope and it is in a God who loves us. With Jesus we can see the glass. We can begin to put it back together. Though it won’t be whole again until we pass through this life, we can now hope that He can use our lives and our works to bring about something truly good which we are incapable of doing alone.
In all Benedict’s strictness I wonder if what he is saying is this, we are a people prone to chaos. We are a people prone to destruction. Order is an experience of God. Disorder is something that came after the fall. The order and the rigidity of the monastery are there to set a rhythm of life that draws the participant, both monk and visitor, closer to God.
Most of us aren’t called to be monks. The sternness in Benedict’s rules don’t apply to us. But I am left with an idea, perhaps as I am able to bring order to chaos and peace to destruction I am taking a step toward (or even a step with) God. This weekend as we remember first, the inevitable despair of death, followed by the joy of hoping for eternal life, we can also continue taking small steps in our own homes to live in a way that God can be experienced more fully. For me it probably needs to be less time on my computer and more time clearing off the kitchen table, creating a space that is welcoming at least for my own family if not a guest who may stop by, for you it may be an earlier bed time or planning a family walk on the weekend or whatever. We aren’t going to live like the monks of St. Benedict but we can choose to structure our lives in a way that draws us out of chaos brings us into a deepening experience of God so that as Benedict puts it, “we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen.”