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Thursday, 30 August 2012

On Benedictine Spirituality--a mini-series, part one

The next few posts will include small meditations on some aspects of Benedictine Spirituality. If readers have not seen the DVD Tyburn Convent: Gloria Deo, A Film Documentary, I highly suggest getting it.

One of the aspects I want to emphasize is the connection between learning and the love of God, which I have mentioned on this blog before.The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture by Jean Leclercq. 

Today, I want to highlight two points from the text, which are in the Rule. The first is the daily reading of the Lectio Divina. The readings from the Scriptures are followed by meditation and prayer. The emphasis in on the Word of God. Although St. Benedict did not invent this method of study and prayer, he implemented it and established it as part of his Rule.

The reading itself is a sacred movement. The meditation follows and the prayer, naturally would end the process. It is obvious that some intellectual and rational approaches are here employed. As Leclercq noted, a monk had to learn how to read and understand Scripture. The monks had and wrote books. They copied books. The Scriptures were copied and re-copied, embellished with art and designs which still astonish the world. 

The novice had and still has to read and study the Rule. Therefore, even in the earliest days, the novice had to know how to read and discuss the Rule. Reading in the refectory was done out loud, and reading in the quiet times could have been done in a low voice. Silent reading was also done and still is. Leclercq notes that active reading, reading out loud, is connected to meditation. The reader listens as well as begins to understand the text.

To listen, to think, to act out of reflection is a little phrase I add to some of my posts. I got this from St. Benedict-think, pray, reflect, act. This movement of the mind and heart is all part of being involved in the Lectio Divina.

As children, at least in the old days, we would learn "by heart", a way of learning to which Leclercq refers. Some of you may remember reciting poetry in school and learning by heart by repeating the poem out loud for homework. The monk would do the same. And, the daily recitation of the Hours, the Breviary, as well as the singing of the Chant, would bring about memorization.

The second point is that the reading of the Rule would lead to an appropriation of those rules. Reading and studying change the mind and the heart. As the novice would learn the Rule, he would begin to make it his own. The doctor studies medicine until he can do operations "by heart". So, too, the monk learns the Rule so that he can live it. Thus, says Leclercq, monastic life is based on the reading and understanding of literature. For a word-smith like myself, this is not only consoling, but very attractive and beautiful.

The repetition is part of meditation and meditation is part of learning. To be continued...