Joan Chittiser, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1990)
This has a much different flavor than the other books I’ve been reading. The others are thought-provoking and challenging in their own way, but this one felt more down-to-earth, simpler, more practical, more elemental. Kind of the feeling I get when reading someone like Buechner, or whoever that person is for you who speaks very plainly, but very truthfully.
Chittister’s goal is to make accessible the rule of St. Benedict, an ancient guide for being human, living well, and following God. The effects of her guidance are akin to my morning cup of coffee—they awaken, they energize, and they comfort. And they have the power to limit the headaches of life—both literal and figurative.
On listening and decision-making: “…we must seek counsel, take advice, listen to the opinion of others on subjects dear to us. Reflection becomes integral to the process of growth and basic to our style of acting. Impulsiveness becomes suspect even when the impulsive decision turns out to be right. Why? Because truth is a mosaic of the face of God. Because the voice of God comes often from where we would least expect it.” (24)
On relationships: “It is life with another that shows my impatience and life with another that demonstrates my possessiveness and life with another that gives notice to my nagging devotion to the self…in human relationships I learn how to soften my hard spots and how to reconcile and how to care for someone else besides myself.” (49)
On an American “personality disorder”: “Clearly, the cultural effects of rampant individualism have come home to haunt us. The symptoms of narcissism, the professionals agree, that are signs of an unintegrated personality include a grandiose and exaggerated sense of self-importance; preoccupation with fantasies of success; exhibitionism and insatiable attention-getting maneuvers; disdain or disproportionate rage in the face of criticism; a sense of entitlement that undermines any hope for success in personal relationships; talk that is more self-promotion than communication.” (56)
On humility and “wanting”: “I was not put here to have the best of life’s goods; I was put here to have what I need for my body so my soul can thrive. I was put here to appreciate what is.” (61)
On harmony with the earth: “To live a life of Benedictine harmony means we have to become caretakers of our world, not its enemies. We have to learn to love the natural again: natural grass and natural vegetables and natural air. We have to learn to care for what we have rather than casually destroy and unthinkingly replace things simply because they bore us. We have to learn to walk through life on tiptoe, not destroying, trampling, not neglecting what has as much right to be here as we.” (77)
On “fruitful” and “wasteful” prayer: “Real contemplation is not for its own sake. It doesn’t take us out of reality. On the contrary, it puts us in touch with the world around us by giving us the distance we need to see where we are more clearly. To contemplate the gospel and not respond to the wounded in our own world cannot be contemplation at all. That is prayer used as an excuse for not being Christian. That is spiritual dissipation.” (103)
On hospitality: “It is so easy to give clothes to the poor but refuse to honor the ones to whom we have given the goods. Who says, ‘Pardon me’ to the down-and-outers who hang at the kitchen doors and garbage cans of our cities? Who sits and talks to the unskilled workers who clean the office buildings of our towns? Who makes friends with the people on the other side of town, the ones who aren’t ‘our kind of folk’?” (127)
I feel like I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself lately to more tenaciously pursue a more monk-like life (without abandoning my wife or my blue jeans, of course). Part of this is because I feel like being a Christian means I must, kind of like it is “part of the package.” God is gracious to us all, yes, and I think God’s gifts to us are just that—gifts, not contracts. But...Jesus sure seemed like a demanding son of a…God. (Any chuckles or half-grins on that one?)
But it’s not just because I believe God wants it from me or for me. It’s because I believe this is a better way to live. To be whole, to be healthy, to be able to give and receive love in abundance, to be at peace, to be mindful of the beauty around me, to give up exhausting pursuits that ultimately destroy my soul—that sounds awesome.
But it’s not the kind of life that comes overnight.