Rule of St. Benedict: Prologue:vs21: “Therefore, with our loins girded with faith and the observance of good works, let us set out on this way with the guidance of the gospel, so that we may be worthy to see the one who has called us into his kingdom.”
The translation in RB80 is “let us set out on this way” but Michael Casey says a more accurate translation is “let us set out on his journeys”. Casey emphasized that the journeys are plural and that they come from Christ’s invitation, not our own. There are many journeys we travel in life – some are minor and some are major; some smooth and some stormy - but all of them are with the intention of leading us to God.
Realistically however, we sometimes wander and deviate off His path. But even then Jesus is with us, following us on those dead-end excursions, gently encouraging us to turn back to Him. We came to the monastery not to follow our own desires but to follow the way of life set forth in our Rule. This verse, then, is a call to examine our life and see what places we have drifted from “the Way”…and as Cistercians, from our Rule as well.
The first thing we are told to do is “gird your loins”. This is a phrase we don’t use anymore – I would never say “let’s gird our loins and go shopping”! But it was a frequent phrase used in Scripture for one who is ready to set out on a journey or a battle. My Bible has a footnote explaining that loose garments were usually worn so when people set out on a journey or soldiers headed into battle they would fasten up their loose clothing with a belt so that it did not hinder their walking or movements. This can be a metaphor for us, in our journeys toward God; we must get rid of the excess clothing…nothing to hinder our movements or cause us to trip and fall along our journey. In the spiritual sense, the movement of our heart can be hindered by excessive desires; just as our vision and direction can be clouded by excessive thoughts. Single-heartedness and single-mindedness are necessary practices to stay straight on the pathway. This is our monastic striving for purity of heart. This “girding of the loins” is preparing us for a pure heart so that we are “worthy to see the one who has called us into his kingdom”. The Beatitudes promise that “those of pure heart shall see God”.
But this “girding of the loins”, and girding of the heart (!), is not only for journeys and battles, it is also the stance given for the Passover in the Book of Exodus: “Gird your loins, your sandals on your feet, your staff in hand…for it is the Passover of the Lord”. At the Passover meal in John’s gospel (13:4) we also hear that Jesus (quote) “got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.” So we also have implications of the Eucharist in this journey of faith and good works towards God’s kingdom. Not only is He the Way but He is our food along the way.
I noticed also that St Benedict does not focus on the kingdom as the goal, but rather seeing “the One who has called us to his kingdom”. We seek not a place but a person; it is not a region but a relation. We are hearing Cassian’s immediate goal of purity of heart and the ultimate goal of the vision of God. However, to see Him IS to see His Kingdom. When we can recognize Christ in our present life, the Kingdom of God is among us…within us. This is a second challenge for us to reflect on: Can I see Christ in my sisters – even when my sister seems to have rough edges at times? Can I recognize Christ’s presence in my tasks - even when they seem laborious, hidden, or menial? Or, as those disciples on the journey to Emmaus, can I recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread – not only at the altar but even when we are at the common table? This requires faith…this requires good works. Sometimes the journey is easy but sometimes it is a battle!...a battle with our clamoring or wounded ego.
So, today as we journey on the road, let us keep our hearts pure and our minds focused, so we can clearly see Christ in all things. This is purity of heart and this is our call…these are His journeys chosen for us. So let us “gird our lions with faith and good works” today – remembering who we journey towards and with.