Benedictine Christian? Evangelical Christian? Lutheran Christian?
Shortly after I embraced a Benedictine Christian identity, I found myself at a weekend retreat at Camp Calumet in Freedom, NH. It was the Mother’s Day weekend retreat, which I’d been attending with my two children for years. We were one of several returning families, and it was nice to see familiar faces.
There was one woman in particular I’d become friends with over the years. She had four children who were in the same general age bracket as my two, and we were both homeschooling moms. Her Evangelical Christian beliefs were more conservative than my ELCA Lutheran beliefs, but we had enough in common and enough respect for each other that our doctrinal differences were never really a problem.
That is, they weren’t a problem until she found me reading St. Benedict’s Rule.
I’m sure I didn’t explain the role the Rule played in my life very well. I was very new to the whole thing, and I’d never tried to articulate it to another person before. In her view, obedience to anything except God alone was idolatry. A good Christian shouldn’t need any more instruction than can be found in the bible itself.
Our relationship ended that weekend.
Christian Living for Dummies
Since then I’ve wrestled with the question: Why be a Benedictine Christian? Isn’t just being a Christian enough? If not, isn’t being a Lutheran Christian enough? How many labels or qualifiers do I need?
When I first attempted to live according the Rule, I did so because I wanted a deeper spirituality. The competitive part of my brain thought I was trying for a more advanced spirituality than regular, ordinary Christians.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In the very first line of the Prologue, St. Benedict addresses the reader of his Rule as “my child.” In the second line he refers to himself as a “loving parent” giving “advice” to help the reader return to God. The Prologue ends with St. Benedict stating his intent to “establish a school for the Lord’s service,” which would “introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.” In Chapter 73, the final chapter of the Rule, he describes the whole thing as “this modest rule we have written for beginners.”*
I’ll be honest, I laughed out loud the first time I read that line.
Except he wasn’t kidding.
As I’ve tried to live according to St. Benedict’s Rule, I’ve come to realize that it is a rule for beginners. It distills the entire wisdom of the bible into a simple set of instructions. It’s Christianity 101. It’s Christian Living for Dummies.
“Simple” Does Not Mean “Easy”
By the time I sought spiritual depth as a Benedictine Christian, I knew what I believed. My struggle was figuring out how to live those beliefs. Yes, the bible gives a lot of instruction. My friend wasn’t wrong about that. But it was not written as an instruction manual, even for its original audience.
Despite what my friend at Calumet may have believed, it’s not that easy to find relevant, concrete guidance in the bible. It’s there, but it’s not easy to find.
St. Benedict found it and based his entire Rule on it.
The Rule is an instruction manual, helpful for people like myself who couldn’t figure it out on our own. In it he gives practical advice that applied to the real environment of his day.
The environment has changed, but the wisdom he based his advice on has not. St. Benedict’s Rule is still a helpful instruction manual for those who need a step-by-step guide on how to live their Christian faith in their real-world environments. The steps are simple; as promised he did not introduce anything harsh or burdensome.
But simple doesn’t mean easy. “Love your neighbor” is a simple statement, one that most Christians understand regardless of denomination. But understanding a simple statement and putting it into practice are two very different things. There are a lot of people who seem to go out of their way to make it difficult for others to love them. We’re called to love them anyway. St. Benedict gives simple advice on how to do that, but putting that advice into practice is a daily challenge.
So that’s why I’ve added another label to my faith life. “Christian” identifies my religion. “Lutheran Christian” helps to define how I interpret my religion. “Benedictine Christian” demonstrates how I live my religious beliefs in my daily life. But who I am is much simpler than any of those labels.
Before anything else, I am a beloved child of God. And that is an identity I share with all of humanity. No exceptions. For God it is that simple. And that easy.
* All quotations from the Rule are taken from St. Benedict’s Rule: An Inclusive Translation and Daily Commentary by Sr. Judith Sutera, OSB. (Please note that I do receive a tiny percentage of sales made through links on this page. This is with Bookshop.org, which also benefits local and independent bookstores.)