Sitting at the feet of the Abbot of Buckfast

Posted in Blog, Christianity, Spirituality

Sunday 9 October 2011  Yesterday, at a Biblefresh Festival at the Mint Methodist Church in Exeter, I joined a group led by Father Abbot David of Buckfast Abbey.  The Abbot talked engagingly and inspirationally about Benedictine Spirituality and Lectio divina (the union of mind and heart with God through Sacred Scripture). He told us that the aim of the Rule of St Benedict, by which the monks live, was “reformation of the individual”.  He told is that it is “by grace that we become like Christ”.  Scripture, he told us, is the basis of monastic life; that repentance and restoration is at the heart of our growth in the Spirit.  All the “rules” by which Benedictine monks live serve positive values – that welfare and improvement is their aim.  The discipline by which the monks live is not the “discipline of a slave”: their lives are characterised by “order and regularity combined with flexibility”.  God’s Word, he told us, comes in the whole of our existence and experience: so the monks are encouraged to cultivate the arts and good friendships.  He quoted a Jesuit writer who had spoken of 5 imperatives for the follower of Christ if he or she is to be fully human: 1 Be attentive 2 Be intelligent 3 Be reasonable 4 Be responsible 5 Be loving (that is show kindness and respect).

The Benedictine way is a “humanistic way of living”.  It is through the action of God’s power – grace – that we are made fully human.  And so to be a real humanist you need to be a Christian.  For St Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine Order in the early sixth century, to be the human God intended there will be no sharp contrast between the sacred and profane.  In Benedictine spirituality, personal growth is not sought for selfish reasons, but rather the focus is on “growth of the person in community”.  He spoke of the gospel aim of restoring us to be the people our Creator intended us to be.

Scripture is one of God’s great gifts to us.  On the practice of Lectio divina he said that:

1 We read the Scriptures in order to repent, in order to cleanse the heart of sin, in order to return to God.  This approach to sacred reading is mystical: through it we are seeking union with God, the divine life.

2  We should meditate on what we read in the Bible.  It may happen that a particular phrase, sentence, or longer section appeals to our minds and hearts.  It can seem that there is an unusual power, beauty or truth in a particular passage.  If this happens you should stop reading and focus your mind on that particular passage.

3  As you are reading reflectively you may find yourself inclined to speak to God about what you are reading.  Reading Scripture can lead to every form of prayer – praise, petition and intercession.  This is a grace of the Holy Spirit and cannot be planned.

The fruit of Lectio divina is true obedience – a moulding of our will to the will of God.  It is the seed (in the parable of the sower) that falls on good soil.  We can meet Jesus and be transformed by him in the Scriptures, in the sacraments, in our loving relationships with other people, in our communion with nature and in our own hearts where he dwells.

Please comment on this post and tell me whether you think the world would be a better place if more people followed the Benedictine way.