Saturday, December 13, 2014

Benedictine Spirituality

"Prayer and Community" (1998) by Columba Stewart is another title in the Traditions of Christian Spirituality series. The volume covers the Benedictine tradition, the largest monastic tradition in Christian monastic orders and tells the important story of one of the greatest laypersons in the history of the Church.

The significance and impact of Benedict and his rule was massive and presented the Christian experience in a new way. The Benedictines transformed monasticism from a solitary and often wandering tradition into a communal brother and sisterhood highlighted by a permanent location and a daily rule of work and prayer. Benedict put on end to the Celtic "rule" which in his eyes was too loose and unorganized. Benedict replaced the Celtic notion of wandering with stability as he felt the spiritual life could only flourish within a fixed structure and rule of life.

And what a "system" Benedict produced! Benedictine houses required each monk agree to lifelong poverty, chastity, total obedience to the abbot and the Rule, and a commitment to remain within the order for life. And for Benedictines, the recipe of success was also a unique blend of prayer and work centered around the liturgy of the hours, the lectio divina, personal prayer and silence. The Benedictine houses and monasteries were not just places of worship but also places of learning and culture. Benedictine communities were often linked with sprawling monasteries, farms, industries such as wineries, cheese making and a host of other monastic industries. 

As I have indicated in some of my other reviews in the Traditions of Christian Spirituality series, the best way to learn about the Benedictines is to visit a Benedictine monastery first hand. You will be amazed at how wonderful and enriching the experience can be. Here you will experience the Benedictine charism of hospitality, as well as the unique rhythm of monastic life. To me, this is the great feature about Stewart's book-he summarized the major points of a 15 century old tradition which is still a helpful guide for many today. I mention this only because I was raised in a Protestant home and then in my twenties went to a Benedictine monastery in up state New York and experienced monastic life first hand-it was a fantastic experience! This was Holy Cross Monastery which is linked here.

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