Monday, March 12, 2007

St. Benedict on Lent, Part 6

"To reading"
RB 49: 4

Dom Jean LeClerq begins his inspiring book The Love of Learning and the Desire for God with the observation that monastic culture is a culture of literacy. Drawn from all educational backgrounds, monks are expected to learn to read in the cloister. In all probability, this reading is almost entirely Holy Scripture. It is difficult for many to imagine simply sitting down and reading Scripture, but it is a practice I recommend.

In the past fifty years, there has been a conscience-salving movement in favor of so-called 'quality time'. The idea is that what matters is not how many hours you spend with those you love, but what you do during the (limited) time you have. In contrast, I've always been a fan of 'logging hours', be it in courtship, practicing a musical instrument or in prayer. There are always limitations on the hours we have with the persons and activities we love; however, we also demonstrate love by willingly and ungrudgingly 'wasting time' with the beloved. There is nothing that says "I love you" quite like the uncalculated and simple preference for being together: not trying to cram in good experiences or say meaningful things, simply being: "Like the eyes of a servant on the hand of her mistress, so our eyes are on the Lord our God."

Spending more time reading Scripture is a way of logging hours with God, making a priority of being present to Him, listening (obsculta!) to Him.

It is surely significant, too, that 'reading' falls between 'prayer with tears' and 'compunction' in RB 49. When we aim at 'quality time' it is easy to feel that we are bestowing some favor on the person receiving our shiniest selves. Quantity time forces us eventually to drop the pretense of being 'at our best (!)' and giving the rest, the less savory, the reality, the entirety. When, in the course of our sacred reading, we reach this realization of how stingy we've been with God, we are open to a deep conversion, deep because reaching the farthest corners of our selves, normally hidden. Our hearts are compunctae, punctured by God's love. God grant that this be so in the second half of this great season on conversion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your contrast of logging hours and supposedly quality time.

About 15 years ago, after years of teaching English historical dance, I attended a workshop for traditional square dance callers - nothing I had done before - because the teacher had a nationwide reputation for transforming people's ability to convey dance maneuvers clearly. He did have teach a number of specific techniques that were helpful.

The core element he taught, though, was what he called "flight time" - that we had to be committed to accepting any chance to call, not just the ones we thought would be fun or lucrative. When we didn't have public dances to call, we could log flight time calling for an hour to imaginary dancers.

All of us did, in fact, become much better teachers of dance - but the primary gain was because someone had finally convinced us that there were no shortcuts, it simply took time.

It was a lesson I brought with me when I came to the monastery.


This blog is published with ecclesiastical approval.

If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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