Tag Archives: Benedict of Nursia

At the scene of subsequent Pentecosts

I’m checking in from my trip in Italy. On Pentecost Sunday yesterday  I took some time to appreciate the places on my pilgrim route where the Spirit touched another person or generation with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit just like happened that first time, reported in Acts 2.


We stopped by “Paul outside the walls,” the site where Paul was allegedly crucified by Nero. This completed last year’s pilgrimage to Greece. Paul had an unlikely “pentecost” that day on the way to Damascus.  I’ve been surprised many times by how the Spirit finds me, too.



We made the climb to the top of the famous hill near Naples where Benedict of Nursia planted the monastery that would influence Europe for good for a thousand years and still inspires pilgrims like me. Being welcomed into these islands of faith and learning provided “pentecosts” for thousands of seekers in desperate times, beginning in the 600’s.



Up in Veneto during the 1200’s, Anthony of Padua helped Francis of Assisi train the many new community members their revival movement was attracting. At his shrine we saw his famous tongue, preserved as a memory of his remarkable speaking career and his ongoing influence.  On a Saturday, one worship time after another was packed!


Meanwhile our instagrams told of all sorts of moving experiences on Pentecost weekend — from the splash party in the Northwest to blue skies over South Jersey, from intimate times around the piano to the Comfort Retreat. We have bits of Paul, Benedict and Anthony in us. We experience, demonstrate and teach all the “pentecosts” in our own way. It was amazing then and God with us is amazing now. I can’t help but think God will meet us and continue to use us in desperate times. I’m inspired by the past but probably more by our present together.

Build community in hard times — it is more than surviving.

I do a lot of talking so I went on retreat—not just to stop listening to myself all day, but to listen to God. Why talk if you’re not talking to God—and listening?

In the course of my retreat, I heard a lot from a book by Esther de Waal. It is a good one I picked up after one of our friends helped us explore it not long ago in Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WATER: Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict. Benedict of Nursia is one of those spiritual ancestors we love. He is one of the most influential Christians you may have never heard of.

I am telling you about him today because we are had an About Making a Covenant meeting and twenty people considered entering our community in a more intentional way. Benedict caused a revolution by considering the same thing in the 600’s. Before Benedict wrote his new rule for the communities of monks he was founding, most radical Christianity was solitary; spiritual athletes were the people who entered it. Benedict was one of those atheletes, but he attracted a bunch of people who were not. He realized that following Jesus is mostly for ordinary people. What’s more, a group of individuals sitting at the feet of a “sage” is not very Biblical. His breakthrough was to emphasize the love among the members of the community as elemental to authentic spiritual life; multiplications of those communities are still shining the light of faith today.

His rule says: “The monks are to bear with patience the weaknesses of others, whether of body or behavior. Let them strive with each other in obedience to each other. Let them not follow their own good, but the good of others. Let them be charitable towards their brothers with pure affection.” (72.5-8).

His communities were all men, but women applied this rule in their houses, as well (thus, his language).

DeWaal says that within a hundred years of Benedict’s death, his rule had provided a collection of communities that wrapped Europe in a cloak of faith. “Whereas in the very earliest days monks had gone out into the desert leaving behind them a comparatively sophisticated life, now that pattern was reversed. In a world in which barbarian invasion, political uncertainty, and the power of the sword seemed the most immediate realities, [sound familiar?] and in a simple agrarian world where parishes were served by priests of humble peasant birth, [sound like many of our neighborhoods?] the monasteries came to stand out as centres of light and learning” (p. 20).

cell vanessa
Who is that person sitting in the cell’s “second row?”

Radicals in covenant are important lights in deteriorating circumstances. They not only take care of one another, they provide opportunities for people to know God, learn love, and create sustainable community. Our cells are like Benedict’s little communities wrapping our region in a cloak of faith. We focus on God in prayer and worship, we study to deepen our faith and life, we work for one another and serve those we can touch. The Benedictines were known as change agents by Cruce, libro et atro—cross, book and plough. We have our surprisingly useful version of that.

It was and is all done in love by normal people. When some of those normal people make a covenant to be Circle of Hope at the end of the month they will deepen our capacity to make a difference in this upended world. I think they will reflect a story Pope Gregory I told in his biography of Benedict.

“A certain hermit named Martin had chained himself to the side of his solitary cave near Monte Cassino. When he heard of it St. Benedict sent him a message: ‘If you are indeed a servant of God, do not chain yourself with chains of iron. But rather, let Christ be the chain that binds you.’”

Like Benedict, we point to Christ. It is as simple as that: in the cell where Jesus is the agenda and in our covenant to live as the Body of Christ. That is where the transformation starts and where it continues to astound me.

[First published at Circle of Hope.net]

Impending doom? Time to shine.

It is a great day to be a young church….

philadelphia, philly, south jersey, church, churches, non-denominational, Christian, Jesus, St. Benedict, non-denominational, radical faith…And it is not the first time. I hope I won’t lose you in the third sentence, here; but let me remind you of our encouraging ancestor, Benedict. His era might have been even more challenging than ours.

Benedict of Nursia’s society is falling apart in the 500s after the Roman Empire has finally disintegrated. Warlords are fighting for territory in Italy. Before he dies, the Byzantine emperor from the east, Justinian, will increase the violence even more when he attacks Italy as part of his grandiose and short-lived plan to reunite the empire. Local systems are overburdened. There is recession. There are major outbreaks of the bubonic plague. Back on March 21 (Benedict Day), I sat with him and God and prayed, “This all sounds very familiar.” We’re experiencing the same damned things he did.

Benedict did not just lament, lash out, or defensively react in some other way. He built something from faith. He saw that there were people, like him, who wanted to follow God. They banded together and created the basis of European monasticism: what became the Benedictine Order. It was a simple idea: we’ll seek God together in community, set a rhythm of work and prayer, be self-sustaining and make a safe place for the beauty and healing of Jesus to flourish. The Rule of St. Benedict has been guiding people ever since.

Our world seems like it is falling apart from the inside and out. People are tempted to escape into vidiocy or drugs, and are lured into enslavement by corporations or the military because they don’t know where to turn. Just list the large problems that everyone is talking about and it seems like any one of them could run us over:

  • The economic system is rigged for the rich.
  • The cities are rapidly gentrifying with rich, childless people.
  • The government and educational institutions indoctrinate people with hypermodern philosophy.
  • Debt seems to drag down every young person, especially if they go to college.
  • More technological connecting is resulting in less human connecting.
  • Men, especially, are indoctrinated for sex by porn.
  • Global warming is changing everything.

But just like in the time of St. Benedict, it is a great time to be a young church. In every era of the passing-away world, Jesus manages to find people with an eye on the age to come. Jesus followers are immensely creative at being the presence of the future. As an historian of that fact, I’d say that the worse things get, the better some Christians will get. Would you say things are deteriorating? Then it must be time to shine.

We can react to the disasters around us with judgment and fear, or we can create something wonderful to make a safe place for the truth and love of Jesus — a place for beauty, for healing, and for creative kingdom of God building. We are trying to do that. Working together with Jesus will build something beautiful right where it is most needed.

We have a lot of great people. Can they stay together and work together? We have a great workable paradigm. Will we work it and evolve it or let it calcify?

philadelphia, philly, south jersey, church, churches, non-denominational, Christian, Jesus, St. Benedict, non-denominational, radical faithPlus, we have a great niche. I don’t mean we have the “latest thing” to sell to people who have everything. Our niche is “next” — what’s “new” when all the stuff you thought was newer and greater is worn out (again). I keep finding out about just what we’ve got when I am around other Christians who are still fighting the battles of yesterday, or who have to watch their words all the time lest they offend the powers that dominate them. Thank God we are not stuck looking for Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders to save us, as if either of them can or would! We have the Way of Jesus to keep discovering and completing.

We have a wonderful opportunity. And we are about ready to begin mapping it. Who knew Philly would transform and repopulate, and our whole region (the whole megalopolis!) would be the center of development? We find ourselves, like Benedict, at the center of the empire as it falls apart into something new. He and his friends made such a creative and courageous stand for Jesus in the face of what was happening that people are still inspired by it and even following his rule! If unexpected barbarians find me, I hope they find me doing something like that!

philadelphia, philly, south jersey, church, churches, non-denominational, Christian, Jesus, St. Benedict, non-denominational, radical faithIt seems like everyone and everything around us is getting shaken up in the Yahtzee cup of who-knows-what. When we find out what has been rolled, will we trust God? Even more, will we get into God’s game and perfect unshakeability? I think we will.

[Original post appeared last week at circleofhope.net/blog]