Fall cleanup is strenuous with lots of raking and burning leaves, pruning foliage, putting away hoses and yard tools, emptying the bird baths, hanging suet cakes, and storing clean hummingbird feeders. This year, fall cleanup includes cultivating my Benedictine charism.
Applying Chapter 4 and Chapter 6 of the Rule of St. Benedict to my daily life is rewarding, challenging, and confounding. I often stumble, especially regulating my internal dialogue, observing sacred silence, and avoiding gossip and grudges. In Chapter 4, “Tools for Good Works,” St. Benedict advises us to avoid nursing a grudge, always speak the truth, give God credit for our good works, and avoid grumbling (p. 181-183). In Chapter 6, “Restraint of Speech,” St. Benedict cautions that we should put a “guard on the tongue” before engaging in conversation and always listen for the voice of God. “What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words” (Good News Translation, Proverbs 18:21). The message is clear: A clean-up is in order.
St. Benedict wrote that grumbling and complaining are corrosive “black holes” that negatively impact the community. He condemned gossip, grumbling, murmuring, and complaining. The voice I hear most often and the one I respond to is the one in my head. Tempering my internal conversation is an hour-by-hour challenge, an interior monologue replete with grumbling and carping. Bad-tempered thinking drags me down, yet I often catch myself thinking like a victim or martyr. Like job creep, the assignment of more responsibility that ultimately leads to resentment and burnout, word creep is draining and negatively influences how I approach tasks. For example, “I choose to…” or “I decided to….” are galvanizing statements instead of debilitating and negative. For example, no one relishes having a colonoscopy or the unpleasant preparation procedures days in advance! There is authority in stating, “I have decided to have a colonoscopy” instead of, “The doctor is making me have a colonoscopy” or “I have to have it.” Switching from injured party to decision-maker confiscates grumbling by not blaming others. It obliterates negativity. Instead of approaching the dreaded procedure as a victim, I take responsibility for it. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t make the procedure any more pleasant.)
In Chapter 4, St. Benedict reminds us that we must forgo anger in our interactions with others. Benedict further cautions against grudges. “You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit” (p. 183). At times, I am seduced into justifying why past hurts require retribution, as if my grievance is the exception. Then, I remember how wrong it is and that grudges are destructive and toxic. First, I must forgive and that is the hard part. When I let go, that fifty-pound grudge suitcase I have been dragging around is finally gone. St. Benedict left no gray area, aligning the Rule with Colossians 3:13, “… Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you” (Good News Translation).
Benedictine charism includes silence, stillness, and calm. Ignoring the distractions and obligations of the day and clearing my mind for silence is an ongoing challenge. Lectio divina and visio divina are my instruments for tranquility and quiet, listening for the voice of God. I think about the desert monks and St. Benedict in the cave, living a life of austerity and prayer. They grew closer to God through silence. St. Benedict wrote about having “esteem for silence” in Chapter 6 (p. 191). I am by nature a listener, not a talker, but deliberate and scheduled silence remains challenging, as quieting my internal voice is essential for hearing God’s voice. Sister Joan Chittister, OSB suggests that silence builds community and that “pondering the voice of God is the nucleus of Benedictine spirituality” (p. 61). She adds silence is the foundation of Benedictine life.
St. Benedict condemned gossip, vulgarity, and evil speech (Ch. 6). Through my Benedictine journey and especially praying the Divine Office, I have come to appreciate the uplifting quality of positive discourse. St. Benedict’s Rule on gossip, holding grudges, and observing silence can be compressed into one Bible passage in Friday Morning Prayer (LOH, p. 758). I read it often, not just on Fridays. It is my constant reminder that positive feedback is supportive and beneficial to others. God loves me, he has forgiven me, and I too must be compassionate and kind to others. It reads: “Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them. Do nothing that will sadden the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed against the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
By Jan Vinita White, Oblate OSB
Chittister, J. (2004). The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages. Crossroad Press, NY.
Good News Translation Bible (2022).
Liturgy of the Hours Volume IV, (1975). Ordinary Time, Weeks 18-34, Ephesians 4:29-32. Catholic Book Publishing, NY.
RB 1980, (1981). Liturgical Press. Collegeville, MN.