Living By A Rule of Life
The Rule of Saint Benedict:
Prologue, Verses 19-22
Our Sacred Inner Being Calling Us
Photo by Winnie Southworth
What can be sweeter to us, dear brothers, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in his loving kindness the Lord shows us the way of life. Having our loins, therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in his paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see him who has called us in his kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12). And if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of this kingdom, we shall never reach it unless we run there by our good deeds.*
The Rule of Saint Benedict
Some passages in the rule tend to get lost in the old language more than others. This is one of those passages. Yet, when I persevere, the meaning becomes clear and even more profound. Here Benedict reminds us again of the importance of the call to the spiritual life, and of our necessary response to that call. In just a few short sentences he essentially gives us a summary of what the spiritual life is all about. Yet, for us to hear that message clearly we need to let go of some of our preconceptions —some of our accretions about the meaning of the religious language and the writing style.
“What can be sweeter to us, dear brothers, than this voice of the Lord inviting us?” Clearly being called by God is something that is “sweet,” and something that most of us seek. I suspect even an agnostic would welcome, albeit with some discomfort, a clear and undeniable call from the great Mysterious Creator of the universe. The problem is, few of us have that clear and direct experience. Most of us struggle to hear the Divine Whisper in moments of quiet in the midst of our busy, noisy lives.
Much of the spiritual life is designed to quieten the inner turmoil of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that fill our lives, in order to create the space for that Divine Whisper to be heard. When it is heard, it is, as Benedict points out, “sweet.” It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that our desire to hear that Sacred Inner Voice clearly is at the very heart of the longing for God that calls us to the spiritual life in the first place. Yet, hearing that Divine Inner Voice, really hearing it, is also disturbing. It demands a response that can seem overwhelming and even, at times, threatening. That response calls us to strengthen our spiritual practice, and it calls us to transform our lives in ways that we can only vaguely imagine. That often seems impossible in the reality of our daily lives. In spite of all of that, Benedict reminds us that this calling is still a great gift of the Mysterious Other we call God. He reminds us that this gift requires a response from us no matter how difficult, how threatening, and even how painful it sometimes seems.
The gift of being called to the spiritual life does not end there. If we continue our attention to this Divine Whisper, or as I like to call it, our Sacred Inner Being, “in his loving kindness the Lord shows us the way of life.” Benedict reminds us that this Divine Mystery does not call us to the spiritual life and then leave us hanging. If we continue our practice—if we continue the often difficult and painful spiritual work of quietening that inner turmoil and really listen to that Sacred Inner Voice, over time we will discover the specifics of how we are called to grow and change. Our Sacred Inner Voice will “show us the way of life.” We will also discover how we are called to incarnate that discovery in the reality of our active lives. It is a lifelong journey, and it will be difficult and even painful at times. It may even seem that our Sacred Inner Voice is silent for a time or that it demands too much of us. But as Benedict reminds us, over the long haul “the Lord calling us” is still a gift that is “sweet” to us. It is “the gift that keeps on giving,” if we are willing to continually listen and respond to the calling.
Benedict then places faith and works as the very foundation of the spiritual life. For him they are both necessary, and equally important. He sees no conflict between the two. They are both required for us hear and attend to “the Divine Summons.” Developing and nurturing both are a crucial part of the work of the spiritual life. The very essence of the spiritual life is for us to “walk in his paths.” Faith and works taken together are necessary, but they are not an end in themselves. They are tools that are necessary for us to actually live our lives spiritually. Faith involves a deep inner trust in our Sacred Inner Voice where the Mysterious Other we call God speaks to us, guides us, and gives us strength and courage. Works comes out of that trust and involves our willingness and commitment to do the real, often difficult spiritual work of discovering who we are called to be as unique spiritual persons, and of incarnating that in the reality of our daily lives. Faith without that response is shallow and even meaningless. Together they build on each other and help us to “walk in his paths.” Faith and works are the tools that help us to more and more live spiritually mature and even holy lives.
Benedict ends this section with the observation that “if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of this kingdom, we shall never reach it unless we run there by our good deeds.” We need to be careful here. These “good deeds” are not just a calling for us to minister to others. They are first another reference to our call to the work of the spiritual life. These good deeds first involve our ongoing commitment to our practice—to our discovery of our unique call from the Mysterious God. They are then a call to the work of incarnating that discovery in the way we live our lives—to actually “walking in his paths” in our daily lives. Out of that we will undoubtedly find ourselves called to ministry, but our “good deeds” must first involve our own ongoing conversion of heart.
*From a translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict by Fr. Luke Dysinger, O.S.B. of St. Andrew’s Priory, Valyermo, California, published in Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary & Workbook on the Rule of Saint Benedict by Norvene Vest, Oblate O.S.B. (Trabuco Canyon, California: Source Books, 1990), p. 9.