Fifteen centuries ago a young man abandoned his scholarly studies in Rome and ventured into the Italian countryside, where he founded a monastic community and wrote what he called “a little rule” to help his fellow monks live a spiritual life in community.
That man was Benedict, better known as the founder of the Benedictines, a Roman Catholic order that still thrives today.
“So how does this apply to me?” you might be thinking. “I’m not a monk, and I’m not Catholic. I don’t need The Rule.”
Not true. Although Benedict’s Rule was written for monks, his advice covers much of what encompasses our everyday, right here in the 21st century: worship, prayer, work, study, relationships, our use of time, community and hospitality. Benedict’s Rule is more useful to us now than ever.
Benedict begins the Prologue to The Rule with these opening words:
“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”
Concrete person that I am, listening with the “ear of my heart” doesn’t make much sense. At first. But the more I read about Benedict, and the more I practice quiet, focused listening, the more I understand that looking for God in all things, in the ordinary circumstances of my life is possible.
As Jane Tomaine, author of St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living, writes, “God is before us and within us, waiting to be found. The challenge is that every day we have so many things to do, and the crush of work can leave us hurrying through one task to move onto the next. But is it possible instead to do our work on one level, yet reflect with our mind and heart on where God is in the task? Can we allow the task before us to reveal itself as an opportunity to find God?”
Tomaine gives her readers a number of ways to practice this discipline, this listening with the ear of your heart.
1. Keep a gratitude journal. Take a few moments to reflect on your day, the small instances in which you felt the presence of God in your life. You can even join an online community, like Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts community every Monday, when she lists a continuing stream of 1,000 gifts and encourages others to do the same.
2. Notice the metaphorical breadcrumbs God leaves us to follow. Look back over your life, suggests Tomaine, to uncover the threads that led you to where you are today. Sometimes our God vision is 20/20 in hindsight. Such is the case for me and my move from Massachusetts to Nebraska. In retrospect, I see now that God threw the entire loaf of honey whole grain in my path, not merely the breadcrumbs. But it took several years for me to realize that this period of upheaval was actually the direct work of God in my life.
3. Take a thankfulness walk. This is perhaps better accomplished when the weather warms up, but the point is to walk slowly through nature, focusing on your senses – the chickadee chirping in the white pine…the scarlet berries dangling on delicate branches – and giving thanks for the hand of God in all things.
Like any spiritual discipline, listening and watching for God in the everyday takes practice. I’ll be honest, some days spin by so rapidly that I don’t notice him at all. But I continue to practice, and little by little the extraordinary shines through the ordinary.
“Incline your ear and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:3)
How do you listen for God in your life? How do you “incline your ear” or listen with the “ear of your heart?” Add your ideas in the comments to suggest practices others might try.
I’ve recently revisited a series I wrote three years ago called Blogging Benedict, and I’ve decided to run some of these posts on Fridays through Lent. They are based on the book by Jane Tomaine called St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Living, which I am re-reading this Lent.
Next Friday: Blogging Benedict: Lectio Divina.