There was a certain excitement in her voice as she exclaimed to me on the phone:
“I found the answer…I found the answer!”
“What do you mean, Jane Ann? You found the answer to what?” I asked.
“I found the answer to my problems, your problems and the problems of the world,” she continued, enthusiastically.
“Now slow down and tell me what you’re talking about,” I replied.
“Well, it’s hard to explain it over the phone. Can you stop by this afternoon and I’ll tell you?”
With my curiosity well stirred, I canceled an appointment to go by Jane Ann Culpepper’s home to get “the answer” (I wondered if it could be her meds). “Here it is!” she said, as we sat in the living room to discuss it. “Tom Klock (deceased husband) had this book, ‘Preferring Christ’ and I had never heard of the St. Benedict Rule for Living, but the answer is here and it’s so simple. Do you know what the Benedict rule is?”
“Well, I remember studying about it in seminary, and what I remember is not very simple,” I replied. “Oh yes, it covers a lot of ground, but the rule, put simply, is: ‘Everything is sacred—you, me, animals, vegetables, minerals, etc.’ The rule is to always look on the world as a sacred gift from God and treat everything accordingly,” she explained. “That’s a pretty big order, isn’t it?” I remarked. “Yes, but think how that would change everything if we believed it and practiced it,” she exclaimed.
There was nothing shallow about our conversation that day. Jane Ann came across something very significant that perhaps we have overlooked as a race and that is the sanctity of life. St. Benedict of Nursia, the sixth century monk, was convinced that it is impossible to live in a fallen Roman Empire, so he founded a monastery where the flame of Christianity might be tended during the dark ages. The publication “The New Yorker” has a write-up about St. Francisville in its May 1, 2017 edition that highlights their lifestyle whereby faith, family and community form an integrated whole. Being in community is part of the answer.
Many forces are at work to keep modern living in flux—moveable, unsettled and ungrounded. It takes effort to live by the Benedict Rule, because it is the ideal way of life. It should be the goal of every community to be one where people treat each other as sacred gifts from God. The New Yorker tells about a man, Rod Dreher, who lived in St. Francisville and was converted to the Eastern Orthodox faith. He gave leadership to the community in their quest for wholeness. He went through the process of forgiving those who had wronged him, and making the community of St. Francisville a caring community where people look out for each other.
The St. Benedict Rule is a one-party system. Christ is the Head. We live and let live. We love and promote unselfish love. If you live by the St. Benedict Rule, you seek to love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
“God is everywhere, all the time, and thus every element of our ordinary day is potentially holy. Very few of us believe that and/or act on it. Benedict urges us both to believe and so to act. It is an enormous challenge, involving life-long response, and yet it is very simple and can begin this very moment,” (‘Preferring Christ, a Devotional Commentary on St. Benedict’by N. Vest).
Looking at this Benedict Rule in today’s terms would look something like this: you treat everyone with respect and courtesy. If you are married, you treat your husband like a king and he treats you like a queen. You treat your children with understanding, careful guidance and love. They are sacred gifts. And since you have them under your care for such a brief time, you teach them that the world around them is to be cared for, not abused. You teach them that animals have a place in the universe and you help protect them from becoming extinct. Profanity is the act of killing, stealing and undermining the sacredness of human life.
I am grateful for Jane Ann and her enthusiasm over “The Rule”. It has helped me to be a better person, even though I may have a long way to go. It is a total make-over. It gives without expecting anything in return. It loves unconditionally. It isn’t crude, profane or greedy in any form. It sees oneself as a special act of Creation, and looks out for the other person’s welfare and happiness. It resists being labeled.
Learn all you can about the Benedict Rule. It certainly is worth striving for. And, I think she’s right…it is the answer to that which troubles us in the world today. Amen.