Benedict’s Rule: Formative Environment

Spiritual formation occurs best when we let go of an “event” mentality and replace it with an “environment” mentality.  Programs and plans have their place—moments matter—but all the pieces must be seen against the backdrop of a larger atmosphere and experience that never stops.

You’ve read it before on this blog:  “Every moment is a God moment.”  It’s one of the key convictions of my life and one of the primary elements in spiritual formation.

In that light, de Waal writes an important word to us:  “The Rule must become the environment in which the disciple has to live, to struggle, to suffer” (p. 34)

The early Christians lived “environmentally.”  Some of them made that tangible through creating and living in monasteries and convents.  But even when they did, they understood that their unusual lives were symbolic for the entire Body of Christ—namely, that we all live “cloistered,” abiding in the Risen Christ, by the Spirit, and for the glory of the Father.  We are perpetually in the Presence.

The Rule of Benedict is a means to bring us into an environmental understanding of the Christian life—an understanding that “here and now”—“worship and work”—“life together”—“places and people”—are all part of a never-ending experience of God.

As I pay increasing attention to the New Monasticism, I am finding the same emphasis upon environments.  Of course, there are “events” within environments, and even in ancient Christianity such was the case.  But the events were never viewed apart from the environment which both preceded and followed them.  It is when we have an environmental spirituality that we can properly appreciate and participate in the events.

I learn this best when I go to the beach.  The waves are crashing on the shore, and Jeannie and I have meaningful moments walking on the shore, wading in the water, and watching the waves roll in.  But the moment is made even more meaningful as we remember that the waves have never stopped coming.  They are larger than the moment of our encounter with them.

The spiritual life never stops coming.  Our moments of encounter are memorable, but not definitive.  The environment enriches the event.  It is when we become captured by the Sea that we can love our moments on the beach.

The Rule of Benedict reveals the “Sea” so that we can live more fully in each “wave” that comes our way.


About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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