When I was at Mepkin Abbey last month, I took a tour of the monastery grounds led by a volunteer. At some point, she started talking about the monks and wondered out loud how they do it – cut off from the world, without even TV shows. At first, I totally sympathized with her thought – I wasn’t sure how long I could go without texting, Facebook, checking NPR, etc. My tour guide concluded that for her, the answer was that she could never do it. But the question got me thinking about the monk’s motivation: Though connection with others is hugely important to my life, what do I miss out on when my life is so full?
Benedict of Nursia had a sense of what was missing. In the early 500s, Rome was being taken over by various barbarian tribes. Benedict’s response was retreat – to be closer to God he had to retreat. In the years to come, he wrote the rule that has influenced all of Western monasticism. He structured the day around liturgical prayer, spiritual reading, work, eating, and sleeping. That was it. Simple and focused. His rule became the rule that countless others would continue to follow.
Though I love monasteries, clearly I never chose to stay in one permanently. I love the clarity and wisdom I have found in keeping the hours, but for those of us who do not live the monastic life, is that clarity and wisdom and insight unavailable to us? Proverbs sheds some light on the matter. The author gives us three “ifs”: 1) If you accept my words , 2) if you cry out for insight, and 3) if you seek understanding like silver. If these things, then, 1) you will understand, 2) you will find the knowledge of God, and 3) you will be given wisdom from the Lord.
Our invitation today is to figure out how to do these things in a setting that bombards us with distraction. One gift Benedict gives to all people is the concept of a rule. You may not follow his rule in his way, but we probably all need a rule to help us accept God’s words, cry out for insight, and seek understanding. The abundance of this world is truly a gift – but if we allow ourselves to get lost in that abundance, we can find ourselves no longer longing for a connection to God. Benedict and Proverbs assure us we can still find a way to God and insight, even in the midst this life. Amen.