As all of us Benedictine, oblates or vowed monastics, could probably recite in our sleep, St. Benedict opens the Rule we aspire to live by with a double command: “Listen…with the ears of your heart” and “put it into action.” It’s simple: listen to it, then do it! But St. Benedict is hardly one to advocate acting on impulse. Nor does he intend to create an army of robots. So something has to happen between listening and doing.
The tradition of lectio divina (prayerful reading of Scripture), which St. Benedict also mandated for us without actually using the term, supplies the answer. You know the pattern: (1) Listen (read); (2) ponder in conversation with God (meditate; pray); (3) act on what you’ve heard. But this pattern is not restricted to praying with Scripture. The monastic tradition speaks of 3 “texts” we can read, ponder, and act on: the Scriptures of course; nature (this contribution by St. Anthony the Great refers to the mountains or the trees in the backyard, but can also be interpreted as the human nature in those around us, of which he was himself a gifted reader); and the “pages” of our daily life’s experience. This is what St. Benedict means when he talks about seeking God in all things and in all people. The regular practice of this extended version of lectio creates what I call the lectio mindset, because it is not just something we do at selected times but the way we interact with all of reality.
This mindset presumes, as St. Benedict presumed, and as Jesus taught in the gospel, that reality comes in layers. There is the busy surface that enchants or annoys or simply absorbs in the business of everyday living. But on this slick surface, St. Benedict might have said, you slip and slide and go no deeper into the underlying conversation for which our speaking God made us. That requires plunging through the surface, sometimes with great effort, to get to the deeper places of reality where God is busy creating, transforming, enlivening all that is and inviting us to take part in the work.
This image suggests a two layer world, or maybe a three layer one if we assign God a separate place above and beyond us, as we often do but as St. Benedict never did. However, reality is not a layer cake, with the chocolate carefully separated from the strawberry by a thick layer of vanilla frosting you could drown in. The layered reality St. Benedict understood is intensely interactive: heaven and earth arein constant conversation as both God and God’s created reality work together toward a future we cannot even imagine, so the Bible simply calls it “a new heaven and a new earth.” What that might look like, we can only guess.
Really to live in this layered and interactive reality, we need to pray as St. John of the Cross would suggest (even though he wasn’t a Benedictine!): “We must … dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures; however deep we dig, we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are found on all sides” (see The Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, December 14). Here, it seems, is the place to which we must go between hearing and doing: Christ, the Wisdom of God, embedded in and speaking throughout the Scriptures and all reality.
So to get from the listening to the doing, let us put on our miner’s helmets, turn on the brightest light they offer, and go digging into all the nooks and crannies life offers to see what God has hidden there for us. Thus do we honor the fact that life, like a mine, is seamed with gold. Or, as I prefer to think, seamed with light, the Light of the world!
Copyright 2020, Abbey of St. Walburga