"The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent." So writes St. Benedict in his Rule, chapter 49, "The Observance of Lent." And he goes on: "Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to was way in this holy season the negligences of other times."
I will be at St. John's Abbey for meetings next week and so I'm going to explore a Benedictine way of living lent. Benedict, always aware of human failings, offers such gentle advice. In addition to our normal way of life, he says, during lent we should add something of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink. He does not expect that this be radical, nor does he expect this to be easy to keep, even if it is only a modest change from our usual patterns, and so he councils that "everyone should, however, make known to the abbot what he intends to do."
I would like to follow a discipline of one this lent.
1. one day of fasting per week
2. one helping of food or drink per meal
3. one thing at a time during work or play, in order to focus
Sound easy? Perhaps. I will also try to keep the ancient pattern of prayer three times per day--morning, noon, and night. I'll read a Psalm, a chapter from Benedict's rule, and a page from The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life by Wil Derkse. The idea is not to plow through the reading, but to practice ruminatio, the Latin term monks used as part of the process of reading till God offers you something to meditate upon and then you stop. It is a word used for what cows do with the grass they eat.
In today's readings, I found this as a great way to face what is easily one of my favorite days of the church year: Ash Wednesday. From Derkse's book: "As an old abbot once said when he was asked by a journalist what more than half a century of Benedictine life amounted to: "Falling down and getting up again. Falling down and getting up again." Ash Wednesday, the imposition of ashes in the sign of the cross and the words declared, "Remember, O Man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," is for me a declaration of freedom to be human before God.