Reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict
I mentioned a few months ago learning to play the drums, and learning drumming (or any instrument) is slowly making the impossible possible. Maybe there are individuals who can immediately play a drum kit with complete coordination and precision without any experience. I’m not that way, though. It’s complicated for me. Drumming is an impossible jumble of putting movements and timing together so a beat emerges. On the first day of trying something new I’m tempted to believe it can’t be done. With each day I work on it, though, I see progress. After about a week of trying I can play the new beat. So many skills in life are this way, when time and work transform something into a possibility.
Benedict acknowledges occasionally a monk in a monastery will be assigned an impossible task. In Chapter 68 Benedict advises what is to be done, and he suggests the monk try it and if the task still seems impossible he or she is to explain to the superior why the task is impossible. If the superior is still convinced that this particular monk should perform the task, then the junior monk should, “trusting in God’s help,” obey.
I don’t know, but I’m guessing in a life of a monk he or she is asked many times to do tasks or take on roles that he or she wouldn’t have guessed possible. I know in church life as a pastor I often ask people to do things and the response is disbelief. “Who me? I can’t do that,” is a typical response. The only difference I’ve found in success or failure of the person doing the task is if she or he actually tries to do the job. I’ve been at this long enough that I know most people can actually say a spontaneous prayer from the heart (without notes), teach a class, invite someone to church, or visit a sick person if they actually try doing those things. I often mention a man I knew who, in his 70’s, taught a children's Sunday School class for the first time. He did a great job, too, but first came his willingness to actually try it. How many things do we fail at doing simply because we are unwilling to actually try them?
I remember years ago watching the documentary Wordplay, which--believe it or not--makes crossword puzzle competitions suspenseful. The movie is interspersed with interviews from celebrities who enjoy crossword puzzles. A short quote from President Clinton has stayed with me now nine years after I first saw the movie. He says, “Nearly anybody can learn nearly anything they need to know. . . . . most of us are all capable of doing more than we think.” Benedict knows that monks will be placed in this position of trying a task which will, at first, appear impossible. If the monk, with the direction of the superior, keeps trying, then that impossible task becomes possible. It’s probably true for the rest of us, too.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict