Richard Frost, author of Life with St Benedict, reflects on new beginnings
Richard Frost's book Life with St Benedict: The rule reimagined for everyday living enables today's reader to draw on the centuries old wisdom of St Benedict. Structured in three parts, it encourages daily reading of the psalms and Benedict's 'Rule', and reflection on its application to modern life. The second cycle of readings begins today, so this might be a good time to begin reading, or begin again ... though you can pick up at any point.
Richard writes of the particular relevance of St Benedict's wisdom in these strange times ...
Life begins again
You don’t need me to tell you what strange times we are living in. And how much life has changed since Ash Wednesday. Little did we know what we would be giving up for Lent.
Along with ‘Coronavirus’ and ‘Covid-19’, terms such as ‘self-isolating’ and ‘social distancing’ have entered our vocabulary as if they have always been present. We’re told to ‘stay at home’. Many are being ‘shielded’. Others are called ‘key workers’ – and doing far, far more than ‘just their job’.
There is death. And plenty of it. Death on a scale not seen in this country (and many others) since the Second World War. Death has not lost its sting. Families are unable to be with their loved one. People dying, sometimes alone, sometimes with the strangers who cared for them. Mourned in public by few or none.
And yet, within it all. Within all the tragedy, the grief and the fear. There is, remarkably, hope.
A reduction in air pollution (civilisation being given one more chance to address the causes of climate change perhaps…).
In some places (but not in all), people are slowing down (a helping hand to deal with increasingly poor mental well-being maybe…).
A resurgence of communities caring for one another (an antidote to modern society’s self-isolating behaviour…)
A renewal of respect for those who serve the public in often unappreciated and oft-criticised ways (blessed are the meek…)
The Church, the community of believers, rediscovering and discovering other ways of being one in Christ. As Luke Coppen put it, ‘Christianity began amid defeat and despair… this won’t be the end, rather a new beginning.’ (The Spectator 11.4.20)
And yet, within it all, life for most people has been turned upside down. Many are finding aspects of the current times difficult. Gone are all the normal activities and usual freedoms. Many are struggling with unprecedented change. Many find it frightening. Many are anxious and worried.
All those are normal feelings and having them doesn’t mean your faith is lacking – nor does it mean that God is absent, even if it may feel that way at times.
In some respects, life is beginning again…
Finding stability in times of such change is key to living in these current times and beyond. Many are writing about the relevance of St Benedict’s teaching to our modern day lives and experiences – so much so, there’s been at least four books published in the last year. Laurentia Johns OSB writes about the ‘blessings of beginnings’ and former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has written about how ‘Benedictine stability is the context in which we learn to sit still with whatever company arrives, in the confidence that God in Christ sits still with us.’
In helpful contrast, award-winning, American journalist Judith Valente reflects on the Rule of St Benedict in How to Live: a book which is ‘about living -- not just surviving… a book about how to live a balanced, meaningful, and conscious life rooted in the ancient and time-tested wisdom of the Rule.’
The Rule of St Benedict provides a rhythm for prayer and reflection through its four-monthly pattern of daily readings. That pattern begins again – on 2 May – and you may like to use my book of everyday reflections, Life with St Benedict, as a way of building such a rhythm of stability: one that relates this ancient Bible-based wisdom to the ordinary and not so ordinary aspects of life. (There are some films to help you find stability in these times of change and uncertainty also).
There is nothing good about this pandemic but there is good that is coming out of it. And it’s to be hoped that when this is all over, we don’t completely revert to how things used to be as we learn how to begin life again.
This blog originally appeared on Richard's own blog which you can follow here.
About the writer
Richard Frost is a Reader in the Church of England and an Oblate of the Anglican Benedictine Community at Alton Abbey in Hampshire. Formerly an Employment Specialist helping people with mental health conditions, he writes a blog at http://workrestpray.com/
To find out more about Life with St Benedict: reimagining the rule for everyday life, and to order a copy, click here.