In these days of lockdown and uncertainty I am finding myself grateful for all of the resources at my disposal, material and spiritual. I’ve become very aware of the good fortune of living in community and of a monastic system of housekeeping which means that our storeroom shelves and freezers are always 3/4 full. We try to live a spirit of simplicity and can often make a little go a long way. But it always feels as if we have plenty.
Benedictine life has an innate sense of the importance of the material. In his Rule, St Benedict urges his community to ‘treat the good and tools of the monastery as the vessels of the altar.’ In just a few words St Benedict has laid part of the foundations of a way of life that has been lived, in various forms, since the Sixth Century. For St Benedict daily life in the monastery was all of a piece: the material, the implicitly spiritual and the explicitly spiritual are woven together into something very robust.
During the past month my sense of my dependence on material things has been heightened. Those bars of soap that I have been given as presents during the year are special now. They are special because they came from friends and special because now they can contribute to my health and safety.
My awareness of my dependence on the implicitly spiritual and explicitly spiritual has also increased. We haven’t celebrated the the Eucharist in our chapel since March 21st. It was a shock to the system and it has set off for me a train of thought that runs ‘what if we didn’t have…’ What if we didn’t have a chapel? What if we didn’t have the Breviary? What if we didn’t have Bibles? As I have let these thoughts run I have realised that I am so grateful for the parts of scripture that I know by heart. After 25 years of singing the liturgy there are many texts that I can sing by heart. This feels like a precious inner resource for me.
During the Easter Octave we sing this Canticle at Lauds and Vespers:
When we were baptised in Christ Jesus,
we were baptised in his death.
When we were baptised we went into the tomb with him,
and joined him in death.
So that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory,
we too might live a new life.
If in union with Christ we have imitated him in death,
we shall also imitate his resurrection.
Our former selves have been crucified with him,
to free us from the slavery of sin.
We believe that having died with Christ
we shall return to life with him.
Christ, having been raised from the dead, will never die again;
death has no more power over him any more.
When he died, he died once for all to sin,
so his life now is life with God.
And you too must consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive for God in Christ Jesus.
I have always loved Romans. This text is one of the touchstones of our faith. It’s also a touchstone of monastic theology which sees the whole monastic path as a dying to self and a rising to new life in love and communion. And the goal of it all is to be ‘alive to God.’
When each day we hear of the death toll rising and hope ardently that the Corona Virus will have reached its peak, it seems all the more important to cherish life and make every choice one that says; ‘I am alive to God.’