Its been another study day which has worked quite well. I achieved the aim of finishing reading, again, the rule of life of St Benedict. The rule is challenging, but I like the way the rule seems to be all encompassing. It relates to everything from meal times, what to wear and so on because St Benedict saw no distinction between secular and spiritual. This rule of life works from the premise that everything is important to God and so everything needs to be taken account of.
Some things hit me today which I had not noticed before, probably because I zipped through the final few rules last time. Many people are aware that hospitality is a particular hallmark of Benedictine spirituality. Rule 66 is all about the porter.
This rule starts like this: ‘At the door of the monastery place a sensible old man who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, and whose age keeps him from roaming about.’ There seems to be a bit of Benedictine humour there with images this portrays.
The porters role is to be the first response to visitors. He is the connection between the community and the outside world as the rest of the community would not leave the monsatery often if at all. I think Esther de Waal sums this up well in her commentary on the rule: ‘the porter stands on the edge, based in the enclosure and yet greeting the world outside. So in him we are watching the holding together of desert and marketplace, cloister and world.
I like and very much relate to the idea of standing on the edge and it reminds me of the doorkeeper poem I linked to here 5 years ago.
In particular I have struck and challenged in my thinking over the actual greeting itself from the porter to whoever may knock on the door. His first response is to thank God for bringing a visitor. Then sometime in the encounter the porter is to ask for the blessing of the visitor. When re-reading this rule it hit me that Benedict is saying that hospitality, welcome, care needs to be 2 way. It’s something about all being able to give and receive.
It does not take a big imagination to realise that a lot of the visitors to the monastery would be those who needed help with food, clothing or so on. Many would have been excluded from society, thought of as worthless. The porter, however, sees the face of Jesus and asks the visitor for a blessing. This would immediately show the visiting person that they had a role and had value.
I have been wondering how I might take on this 2 sided view in my ministry and in encounters with people. IN particular I have been thinking about those that ask me to pray for them. I have shared that I am uncomfortable as this gives an impression that my prayers are is some way better, which is a mad idea. I wonder, however, if when I have such encounters that I should end them by making a request of them by asking them to remember me in their prayers as I need prayer as much as them?
I’m still pondering this – would such a response show value and respect, or would it confuse and alienate. It’s a pretty fine line I think?