On Monday about 18 of us will converge at Conception Abbey in northwestern Missouri. We will spend a week immersed in Benedictine spirituality as we learn the rhythms of prayer and community at this monastery. It is the season of light: Christmastide moves inexorably toward Epiphany, and we will engage the great texts telling the story of the young Jesus. Besides, the beautiful decorations are still up!
There will be fewer credit students and more life-long learners this year, which will allow a measured pace of the liturgy of the hours, classroom discussion, and time to interact with monks and the new Abbot. Among the class members are area pastors, Central board members, and other friends of the seminary. The goal of the class is to explore sustaining spiritual practices that arise out of this venerable tradition, and garner new insight for what can be transposed to non-cloistered living.
Although over 1500 years old, Benedictine spirituality is rife with perspective sorely needed in our time. As Joan Chittister writes in The Rule of St. Benedict: Insights for the Ages, this spirituality deals with the issues facing us now: “stewardship, relationships, authority, community, balance, work, simplicity, prayer, and spiritual and psychological development.” It is a call to maturing in Christ, and this trellis (the Rule) supports growth in humility, stability, and continuous conversion of life.
Many credit the Benedictines with preserving culture, especially Scripture and other texts, during the Dark Ages, and their conservation of a way of life in community through the “bright weapons of obedience,” as the Rule puts it, remains constructive. It challenges individualism, sloth, pride, careless speech, and measuring oneself by acquisition of goods. Listening to it regularly promotes wisdom.
Over the many years of experiencing this time with fellow learners, I have observed how life-changing this time can be. The hospitality offered; the generous expenditure of time by the monks; and the regular marinating in the Psalter and other texts calls to the deep longing we all share. This is pilgrimage spirituality; it is only finished in death, and one must keep this daily before one’s eyes.
The relationship between Conception Abbey and Central is strong, yet rather unusual given our disparate ecclesial traditions. We understand the sacraments of the Church quite differently, and surely our views on women as pastoral leaders diverge. Yet, spiritual friendship and trust have grown as we honor the charisms of our respective expression of Christian faith. This is a fruitful pathway for the whole people of God to follow.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares leaders through seeking God, shaping church, and serving the world.