Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: The Benedict Option (Page 1 of 2)

October 29, 2017 — Ark and wellspring

Today’s Bible reading

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.

Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” – Ezekiel 47:1-6

More thoughts for meditation

Rod Dreher ends his book with an important question. “How do we navigate the arks we build safely between the twin illusions of false optimism and exaggerated fear?” He is drawn to another image from the scripture that balances the ark story.

“God granted the Prophet Ezekiel a vision of the restored Holy City of Jerusalem. In the vision, a mysterious man leads the prophet into a rebuilt Temple. Ezekiel sees a stream of water issuing forth from the altar, flowing out of its openings and into the world outside. It deepens and widens the farther it spreads from the Temple, until it has become a river that no one can cross. Everywhere this water flows, abundant life follows.

The traditional Christian interpretation of Ezekiel’s vision holds that it was fulfilled on Pentecost, when God poured out the Holy Spirit on the gathered disciples, inaugurating a new era with the birth of the church. Through the church – the restored Temple – would flow the living waters of salvific grace.

The church, then is both Ark and Wellspring – and Christians must live in both realities. God gave us the Ark of the church to keep us from drowning in the raging flood. But he also gave us the church as a place to drown our old selves symbolically in the water of baptism and to grow a new life, nourished by the never-ending torrent of His grace. You cannot live the Benedict Option without seeing both visions simultaneously.”

Suggestions for action

Dreher gives us a final exhortation: “Love is the only way we will make it through what is to come. Love is not romantic ecstasy. It has to be a kind of love that has been honed and intensified through regular prayer, fasting, and repentance….And it must be a love that has been refined through suffering. There is no other way.” Do the Holy Spirit and you agree with him?

We don’t call it the “Benedict Option,” but Dreher could have been writing about our alternativity and our prophetic life made up of our covenant people, the “regular Joes and Janes” who God has called together to form a circle of hope in a sometimes hostile world. Each cell is a face to face community, each congregation a statement of something next, the whole church an ark and a wellspring.  Does God inspire you to renew your efforts to be a part and do you part?

Pray for the church, Circle of Hope, in particular. What are the five main things you want to see well up within it and flood over into the Philadelphia region?

October 28, 2017 — Building a village

Today’s Bible reading

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. – Ephesians 4:15-17

More thoughts for meditation

Seduced by political power, many Christians in the last century thought they could maintain the United States as a safe place for their children to be Christians. Rod Dreher admits they were badly mistaken and now should look to the Benedict Option to restore some semblance of hope for the future. For one thing, since we were made to love each other, Christians need to engage in a much more intense community life, but it won’t be easy. He writes:

“The fate of religion in America is inextricably tied to the fate of the family, and the fate of the family is tied to the fate of the community. In her 2015 book How the West Really Lost God, cultural critic Mary Eberstadt argues that religion is like a language: you can learn it only in community, starting with the community of the family. When both the family and the community become fragmented and fail, the transmission of religion to the next generation becomes far more difficult. All it takes is the failure of a single generation to hand down a tradition for that tradition to disappear from the life of a family and, in turn, of a community. Eberstadt is one of a long line of religious thinkers to recognize that when concrete embodiments of the relationship to God crumble, it becomes very hard to hold on to Him in the abstract.”

In our Map we say:  We are a unique people who have been formed into a missional culture. We are “good trees” determined to “bear good fruit.” Then we go on to describe who we are. We have a strong feeling of community, and we also have a strong description of it.

Suggestions for action

What is the state of your birth family? It may have been fragmented when you were a child. It may feel distant or close, now. What has your family taught you, explicitly or implicitly, about how to live? As you pray about the, does god want to use those lessons or repair something?

What do you think Circle of Hope teaches children about the body of Christ? They will pick it up more than learn it as a lesson, for the most part. What is your part in passing the faith to them? This also goes for babies in the faith – there are people who just got to know Jesus in our constituency.

Imagine our five congregations as neighborhoods of a village. How does everyone connect? How do we learn? What do we do that characterizes who we are? Let God show you answers.

October 27, 2017 — Creating Christ culture

Today’s Bible reading

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-5

More thoughts for meditation

Rod Dreher is eager for the co-opted church to become a new church for a post-Christian era. For former Evangelicals and lapsed Catholics, especially, he is reaching for some core definitions that re-orient them towards being the alternative we, as Circle of Hope, have been perfecting for many years.

“Benedictine spirituality is good at creating a Christian culture because it is all about developing and sustaining the Christian cultus, a Latin word meaning ‘worship.’ A culture is the way of life that emerges from the common worship of a people. What we hold most sacred determines the form and content of our culture, which emerges organically from the process of making a faith tangible….

In some sense, Christians’ new minority status may help us keep our focus where it ought to be. As southern Baptist leader Russell Moore says in his book Onward, by losing its spiritual respectability, the church is freer to be radically faithful. ‘We will engage the culture less like the chaplains of some idyllic Mayberry and more like the apostles in the book of Acts,’ writes Moore. ‘We will be speaking not primarily to baptized pagans on someone’s church roll, but to those who are hearing something new, maybe for the first time. We will hardly be ‘normal,’ but we should never have tried to be’….

Unbelievers today who cannot make sense of the Gospel’s propositions may yet have life-changing wordless encounter with the Gospel through Christian art or works of Christian love that pull them outside themselves and confront them with the reality of Christ.

The first Christians gained converts not because their arguments were better than those of the pagans but because people saw in them and their communities something good and beautiful – and they wanted it. This led them to the Truth.”

Suggestions for action

Part of this week’s purpose is to let in some Evangelical voices, like Russell Moore. People can change. We want to keep changing. How should you be changing?

What is the Church’s “culture” as far as it was relayed to you? Did you experience it as an entertainment center at some point? Has it been a consumer activity? Was it any different from the world around you? We  want to be the living, breathing transhistorical body of Christ, covenanted in love, distinct from our neighbors but connecting to them. We want our converts and our children to get a feel for Jesus from us. Are you in that or something else?

In your prayer right now, let people in our community come to your mind. Love them. Feel for them. Intercede for them.

October 26, 2017 — Rules for surviving and thriving

Church building destroyed by attackers in India.


Today’s Bible reading

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.

If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. – 1 Timothy 4:1-10

More thoughts for meditation

Monasticism had been around for a long time before Benedict of Nursia chose it as an “option.” What Benedict formed was “monasticism for regular Joes and Janes.” Instead of a way of life for the strong and disciplined, he was making a way for the ordinary and weak to not only survive but thrive in uncertain and threatening times. The purpose of the Rule of Benedict was not to make rules but to free people from what ruled them. It was gentle, as in the famous line in the manual labor section: “Let all things be done with moderation, however, for the sake of the fainthearted.”

Rod Dreher highlights the main themes of the rule that are crucial for the restoration and survival of Christianity in the 21st century, especially in the rapidly deteriorating United States.

We must not be controlled by the passions and powers that direct “liquid modernity’s deep currents.” We have our own order as represented by our covenant, Map, our various plans and by the expectation that every cell agrees on what they will do together.

Everything is seen from a supernatural point of view, so we become a radiant reflection of God. If that is true about us, it is because we pray. This prayer guide represents that desire. We’re working on “praying without ceasing” and living “in Christ.”

Good trees bear good fruit. Prayer and work are two sides of one coin. Whatever we do in home, job or church, it is all the work of the One who is at work in us and we do it for God’s glory. We say “life in Christ is one whole cloth” so we don’t divide sacred and secular.

This word comes from the Greek word for “training.” A discipline everyone knows about is fasting. If you can start with your desire for food, you can graduate to anger, envy and pride. We can also fast from our resistance to taking on new things, like order and prayer. We need to learn how to suffer creatively, like Jesus.

We put down spiritual roots in a place long enough for them to grow deep. Rootlessness is an enemy of spiritual depth. Our pastors have shown this longevity in their love for us. It has made us deeper – and them, too.

Sharing life together limits individual freedom, so it is generally under attack in our day. People like to consume the experience of community, and Americans travel the world to experience culture, but if no one makes culture there is none to visit. In Benedict’s rule and in the Bible (as in today’s reading) the most stringent rules are about protecting the community. We probably have more proverbs about that then about other things, as well.

Exercising all these traits makes a community tight knit: close and cohesive. But it could also make them too separate from the world Jesus loves, for whom they exist. So Benedict builds hospitality and service into the rule. No one is to be turned away. Everyone is valued. Our sense of “embracing first” is an example of this hospitality. We do not have litmus tests for being acceptable among us.

Suggestions for action

The Benedict option warns us that “no matter what a Christian’s circumstances, he or she cannot live faithfully if God is only part of his or her life, bracketed away from the rest.”  In like manner, Leon Bloy writes: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint.”

This week has a lot of self-assessment in it. If you were working through the ACTS formula for prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), you’d be on “C.” Today, consider how comfortable you are in Christ culture. Do you have “nothing to do” with some things, as our reading teaches, and do you “train” yourself for godliness?

Confession is not about getting justified, Jesus did that. It is about returning to joy and hope. Benedict did not write his rule so everyone would feel bad about not following rules right. He was calling together people who wanted to live, not be perpetually cajoled into living. The Holy Spirit of God calls Jesus followers into their mature humanity. We may start as children, but every day we take another step into eternity. How do you confess? Does it feel hopeful or horrible? Either way, pray over it.

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