Happy feast of St. Benedict!
Since I, perhaps like many of you, live far away from my Benedictine community, I’m going to celebrate the feast here by sharing a new book of Benedictine wisdom that I just received. It’s called “Life Lessons from the Monastery: Wisdom on Love, Prayer, Calling and Commitment.”
Its author, Jerome Kodell, OSB, is abbot of Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Ark. If you’ve never read any of his books, I highly recommend them. They always seem to hit me right where I live, written in a down-to-earth style yet full of the wisdom garnered from years of prayer and life within a Benedictine community.
This book, only 127 pages long, has short little chapters on five subjects: Divine Love and Presence, Prayer, Calling and Commitment, The Christian Life, and The End and Beyond. So far I’m only on the prayer part, and already I’ve had more explained in those short chapters than in endless other books.
For instance, after quoting St. Paul’s “we don’t know how to pray as we ought,” Kodell goes on to say, “The only thing that matters is to set aside time for prayer and do the best we can….Every attempt at prayer is prayer because of the Holy Spirit’s action on our behalf.”
He deals with distraction at prayer, such a worry for so many people, in very few words. Among them are these two sentences:
“The purity of prayer is measured not by the clarity of the focus, but by the intensity of the desire. If I come into the presence of God for the purpose of praying and don’t change my intention, the time I spend is all prayer, no matter what distractions I encounter.”
He also warns about trying too hard to banish those distractions, because they will then have all our attention.
My favorite part so far is a desert-father story that I hope I never forget. It’s in the part about lectio divina, which Kodell says aims at the roots of our spiritual eyes, pouring over us and drenching us through and through. Then he tells the story of a young man who goes to a desert monk for help in turning his life around. The monk takes him to a cave, and tells him to spend time there praying and reading Scripture. The young man gets frustrated because he forgets what he reads, falls asleep in the middle of it, or is too restless to pray at all. Finally, the monk tells him to fill a wicker basket with sand, and every day pour a bucket of water over the sand, which causes a little of the sand to leak out each time. After weeks and months of reading Scripture, praying, and pouring water over the sand, the young man reported to the monk that the basket was empty of sand, and clean. The old monk says, “My son, the basket doesn’t remember the water that gradually cleaned it. Neither do you remember every word of Holy Scripture that you read. But if you continue to pour the water of God’s word over your sinfulness, someday you, too, will be clean.”
What a relief! I’m always trying to remember the things I read, the Scripture that strikes me one day (and sometimes leaves me wondering why when I reread it weeks later), or the commentaries that inspire. I underline, clip out, try to commit to memory. Kodell, through this little story, says concisely what I’ll admit to being aware of subconsciously: daily prayer, daily lectio, has indeed gradually changed me over the years. It has molded and shaped my attitudes without my ever really defining the change. And I don’t need to define it; I just need to continue to pray and let God work the changes.
I wish I could send a copy of this book to each one of you. Since that’s not possible, I hope you’ll be intrigued enough by this feast-day sharing to investigate “Life Lessons from the Monastery” for yourselves.
Meanwile, enjoy our special day! St. Benedict, pray for all Benedictine priests, brothers, sisters and oblates, that our lives will mirror Christ to others.