When we understand that the Rule of Benedict is an invitation to live deeply in Christ, and when we find the motivation which comes from that invitation, we come to realize (as de Waal points out) that the Rule does not dictate, but rather points to a way of life (p. 30).
We sometimes look at these early expressions of Christianity (whether private or communal) as being harsh and demanding. But what we fail to note is that everything is voluntary.
St. Benedict did not go out on the streets and compel people to become monks or follow his Rule. The decision to do that was purely the willful response to a vision of life in Christ that was compelling.
If that life includes challenges and demands, so be it. No one ever said that following Christ would be easy. But the challenges and demands are not “front loaded” into the Rule; the first word is “live for Jesus.” If that is our desire, then we give ourselves to whatever principles and practices which bring that to pass.
In my own Wesleyan tradition, I’ve had fellow Methodists view early Methodism as a kind of “legalistic” system, forgetting that everything began with a voluntary commitment based on serious desire to live for Christ. If Methodism had begun with rules and regulations, it would have been judgmental and stifling. But it began with an invitation to “flee from the wrath to come,” and those who wanted to do that found themselves immediately within a community of men and women who wanted to help them fulfill the two great commandments.
So too with the Rule of Benedict. It raised the question, “Do you really want to live your life for the glory of God?” Those who responded, “Yes,” were invited into a community where that aim was not left dangling in the air, but rather given form and structure. The Rule became a signpost, giving directions for walking the journey of faith.