A very nice Conundrum

Thursday evening each week offers an opportunity for Trinity Cathedral folks to gather for Eucharist, a shared meal, and an exploration of what different aspects of daily spiritual practice looks and feels like. The evening is structured to reflect the Anglican emphasis on community worship, social fellowship, study, and reflection ending with participating in the common prayer of the Church in the form of Compline. In the study and reflection section of our evening since Christmas, we have been exploring the Rule of St Benedict. Can this ancient approach deepen our individual and collective experience of living and working in the world as we currently find it to be?

This last Thursday we turned to Benedict’s approach to work. I have already posted a number of entries on this blog exploring the experience of a Benedictine approach to the contemporary experience of work. However, last Thursday we found ourselves responding to the question which I posed to the group -“Do you feel called?’. The initial responses were predictable of our Episcopalian mind-set.

Some felt this kind of language of call  to be uncomfortably evangelical in tone. What lay behind this instinctive aversion to the language of call  seemed to be that people did not consider themselves important enough in the grand scheme of the things of God to warrant an individual call. Instead some group members felt that their lives had followed a kind  of random pattern whereby they often found themselves in the right place and the right time to be of service to others.

One woman then said that she did not feel she had a call as such. Despite her professional life taking different turns and directions over the years, in all her varied experiences of work she tried to direct her energies towards a fulfilling of her sense of deeper purpose – which for her involved challenging the structures that perpetuated inequality and injustice for people with disabilities.

The mention of the word purpose provoked an intense discussion about defining exactly what was meant by sense of purpose? One man said that despite his continued desire to perform his work with care and attention he strongly believed that what he did had little purpose in the sense of social utility. As he spoke he communicated his deepening disillusionment at finding little purpose and value in his work.

Being a group of highly educated, left of center leaning people, the conversation turned towards challenging the structures of injustice and systemic sin that surrounded us. Individuals spoke passionately. One woman decried the luxury of our even having a conversation about purpose and calling when most of the world’s people were struggling with the bare necessities of survival.

This Thursday evening group is a typical collection of middle class Americans who feel deeply challenged in how to live out the values of the Gospel in the world in which they live. They do not dignify their struggle with an inflated language about call and high purpose. And yet, listening and watching the conversation ebb and flow I was left in no doubt of their unconscious assimilation of Benedictine Values. It was their intuitive feel for Benedict’s teaching on Humility which prevented many appropriating the language of having an individual call from God. They simply felt that they were not that important or significant in the divine scheme of things.

The members of this group of Christians struggle with a desire to deepen their living-out of the spiritual responses of gratitude, generosity and service which our Anglican Tradition, so historically shaped and formed by the spirit of Benedict emphasizes. Of course, they don’t see themselves as being Benedictine. Our exploration of the Rule, however, has begun to connect-up for them their experience of their lives with the three core values enshrined in the Rule.

They do live lives in which Stability – perseverance, courage to stick at it in the difficult situations in which they find themselves – is a hallmark of their experience. They are coming to understand that a willingness to listen carefully to one another, to sit together acknowledging differences between them, and yet still stay in relationship together is a response longed for by God as an expression of what Benedict means by Obedience. As we journey together we are all experiencing the ways being together and accompanying one another in the practice of stability and obedience is encouraging a transformation in our living and relating – which Benedict refers to as Conversion of Life.

Chiefly, however, is my observation of humility among them. Benedict talks more frequently about the need for humility than any other virtue or value. As one of their priests, I sit with a conundrum. How to guide them to an awakening of God’s dream for them? I believe God longs for them to become partners in the redemption of the world. Benedict states that it is God who calls us. How to facilitate their deeper sense of being called without disturbing their intuitive humility? It’s a nice conundrum to have.

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