A Good Life

I’m re-reading a little book that has a curious draw for me.  

I’m not a very disciplined person. Never have been. Long term good habits are pretty hard to come by for me.

Why then would a book about a strict monastic rule of life be so attractive that Id want to re-read, and even try to implement some form of it in my day to day living?

I’m sure psychological explanations abound (And psychological examination is probably warranted in my case), but the best reasons I can come up with are balance, and Robert Benson.

I’ll start with Robert Benson. I really like him. I like the way he writes, clear, simple, honest prose (not an easy thing, by the way) that obviously comes from long hours of experience with a subject. You know how some people come across as very knowledgeable in a particular subject, but you can tell it’s still theoretical and not lived? I never get that feeling with Robert. Everything seems to have been lived for a long time before he puts it on paper.

But I don’t just like him as an author, I really like him. I spent a weekend with him on retreat and got to know him a little bit. He’s very unassuming, honest about his past and present, quick to laugh, and I wish he lived in my town so I could hang out with him.

Now the balance part.

When I think about a “rule of life” the feeling that immediately comes over me is one of wearing wool pants and neck ties that are a little too tight. Constricting legalism that “builds character”. Ugh. No fun, all serious, all the time. Gruel for breakfast lunch and dinner.

Benedict, on the other hand begins his rule this way,

Seeking his workers in a multitude of people, the Lord calls out and lifts his voice again: Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?

Oh yeah, I yearn for life and good days. You’ve got my attention now. How do I get there from here?

We intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service…

The wool pants are itching again.

In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.

Ok. I ‘m still a little wary, but I’m old enough to know that a little strictness is needed to amend faults, after all I’ve got two boys. And if we really are safeguarding love, I can deal with a tie from time to time.

I’m hooked. 

The book has seven chapters-

  1. Longing
  2. Prayer
  3. Rest
  4. Community
  5. Work
  6. Living
  7. Authors notes- technically not a chapter, but functionally it is.

I’m not going summarize them though. The book’s short enough, and a good enough read that I’ll leave that to you. But I will give you my overall thoughts. 

Benedict was unusually balanced in his approach to the spiritual life. The idea being that all of life is spiritual and can be categorized under four headings- prayer, rest, community and work. Each of these areas needs to be nurtured, and balanced, recognizing their essential part in a life well lived, with prayer being the framework around which each day’s rest, work and community takes shape. *Disclaimer*-This is my very simplistic summary of the rule, but it will do for my purposes here. 

Robert’s writing on the rule makes it both inviting and accessible to folks like me- tired, busy, overcommitted, suburban, mini-van drivers looking for some way to live out life following Jesus. At the same time it’s not a pie in the sky promise that it’ll all be quick and easy either. He’s clear that this way of life is a radical departure from the good life as advertised on TV. It’s gonna take some real work and commitment. Decisions have to be made, schedules reworked, patterns of living changed. But the end result is (hopefully) what the subtitle holds out, “Everyday Joy”. And that’s too good to pass up.  

My suggestion to you? Buy it, read it, let it grow in you. Let the poet-author, and an old monk teach you about the possibility of living a good life.  

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