January 28, 2015

Commentary on the Rule of Benedict

Mother Rebecca Stramoski
January 28, 2015

Vs 42-44:  If we wish to reach eternal life, even as we avoid the torments of hell, then – while there is still time, while we are in this body and have time to accomplish all these things by the light of life – we must run and do now what will profit us forever.
            Earlier we spoke about finding heaven on earth, but it appears we can also find hell too!   John Milton in Paradise Lost said, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven.”  Our thoughts are the main builders of the environment we live in.  Imagine if we lived in a house with a lot of small children who were constantly running around, out of control, and unable to be disciplined.  (In other words, not like little Aimee!)  That house would be an unhappy and stressful place to live…maybe even unbearable over the long haul.  The same can be said of our minds.  If our inner thoughts are allowed to run around uncontrolled, w/o discipline, it would be a hell and a torment.  This is why nepsis is held as an essential practice for anyone on the spiritual path or who desires virtue. Our dominant thoughts will be expressed in our life, actions, and faces.  If my thoughts are on heavenly or godly things, I will be joyful and gracious, positive and hopeful.  Everything in life will seem a gift!   If my thoughts are often critical and judging, I will be harsh and arrogant in my behavior and negative in my outlook.  There is a slogan:  “Change your thoughts and you change your world”.  (Norman Vincent Peale)  Milton reminds us that nepsis, or guarding the mind, is the key builder that determines the kind of house we live in.
            Kenneth Leong in his book, The Zen Teaching of Jesus, defined hell as “an outcome of unawareness”.  In the parable of the ten wise and foolish virgins, Leong says the oil is a common symbol for mindfulness.  Many people miss the opportunity for enlightenment, or seeing Jesus’ presence, because they are not alert.  They are sleepy.  This is why we see St Benedict urgently reminding us again to RUN and do NOW what will profit us forever.  How often we have seen in the Prologue Benedict tell us WAKE UP!  Leong goes on to say, those who failed to share in “the great wedding banquet” were ordinary people who simply were too busy with their life - not mindful of the real invitation at hand.  He says hell is not a consequence of a crime - as the parable of the ten virgins show.  The only “sin” was that the foolish ones lacked attention to details, forgetting to bring oil.  He cautions us, “How tragic it is to miss out on the joy of heaven here and now simply because of absent-mindedness or a misplaced sense of priorities.”  So Leong says mindfulness, or guarding the heart, is a key builder that determines what we will create.
            Ronald Rolheiser asks a great question: How do we know if we are tasting hell or experiencing birth pangs?  He answers it with further questions for our own examin:  Do our frustrations unleash what's worst in us or do they cauterize our worst sins and teach us a humility that cannot otherwise be learned? {Do the hardships of} love demand more distance from others or {bring us closer}?  Does passion turn love into idolatry, or does it reveal its divine fire?
            So now let us go back to St Benedict.  He says if we want to reach eternal life, find the happiness of heaven, and avoid the torments of hell, it is to be accomplished “by the light of life”.  What else is this Light but Jesus Christ?    It is through the oil of mindfulness that the lamp is lit.  This light will not only enlighten our darkened mind but lighten our heavy hearts.  This “Light of Life” is the spark of divine love that causes our oil to burn.  We are the still, silent wick immersed in this oil. We can hold the flame because we have guarded our minds and hearts.   We can choose to be the small ‘wick’ carrying the great flame or to be (excuse the pun) simply ‘wick-ed’.  We are to choose life or death…and thus choose heaven or hell!   Let us encourage each other to run together and reach eternal life, that Light of Life.  Let Christ set fire to your mind and to your heart…all we need to do is remember the oil!!...and be the wick that carries this Great Flame.

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