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A week for Benedict

Once a year the oldies of the church, the revered ones, get a day of celebration and so in July Benedict gets his. A moment in the limelight, to remember his place in building up the Church. I’ve no way of knowing what he’d make of it although I think he’d probably have mixed feelings. It’s right and proper to be pleased they remember you and that the Rule is still there in the life of the universal Church but it’s also right to be humble and self-effacing.


I’m a bit like that with Benedict myself: split loyalties. First you need to know I’m from the dissenting wing of the Church: following the split of the Reformation, I’ve grown up on the Reformed side, so dissenting is in my blood. Added to which I’m a feminist and a biblical scholar using the responses and rememberings of ordinary (non-scholarly) people to inform biblical interpretations. All of which make for a piquant soup when it comes to Benedict.


I’m not good with the Great Men and once made a ‘major error with the Cappadocian Fathers’ (according to one tutor in my youth). I am a pro-European, and I’m glad to see Benedict there amongst the Patrons of Europe. For the most part it is the warm hospitality I’ve received in numerous Benedictine houses that is the foundation of my love for Benedict. ‘Treat everyone as Christ’ is one of the best bits of my remembered rule.

It’s the other member of his family that attracts me to Benedict. I mean Scholastica, his twin sister. Not that we know very much about her and as far as we know, no examples of her words have survived to this day. No Rule for monastic women was produced as early as the Rule of St Benedict, although it has been adapted for monastic women. And of course other saints have famous siblings and companions, like Francis and Clare and those Cappadocian fathers.


When I joined the Lay Community of St Benedict I was happy to call myself a Friend of Scholastica and my old camper van The Mobile Chapel of St Scholastica. As I’ve thought about her over the last few years I see her as having moulded the Rule more than we know. If the Rule is about building community it must also be the product of community. Scholastica was part of the community crucible that formed the Rule. Just as well really as we all need a good editor.


Benedict had spent his youth in serious ways, took up being a hermit for a bit and then looked around for something else.


That part of the Rule where he dismisses the wanderers is classic really. ‘Don’t be a wanderer: I wish I could, but community is better’, is how I read it. There have been plenty of faithful wanderers both male and female from John Wesley to Gladys Aylward, Mary Seacole to Gypsy Rodney Smith (I recently saw the stone that marked the place of his birth in Epping Forest). Wandering is a good enough calling. Anyone might be called to do it.


So too with building community for which a Rule might be helpful, one that’s not going to be too arduous or unattainable. Even so, it's all about interpretation. We don’t beat children or excommunicate people now even if they did in the 6th century. We try to find a balanced life, with worship and prayer, service and mutual encouragement at the heart of our life together. Which is what I like to think of as the Rule of St Scholastica. It’s not written down but it is all the things the Rule of St Benedict is in simple terms.

It’s about time for me to wander off again. I’ve looked at the weather; it may rain later but I shall walk on for now. Around me the Longdendale Valley will open up with all its delights: the purple headed mountains, the tiny orchids in the grass and always the geese calling. Am I a Benedictine? Just about: a good enough Benedictine with a remembered rule and a heart for hospitality. ‘Listen with your whole self’: Scholastica would agree with that.


Janet Lees, A Friend of St Scholastica, in Longdendale, Derbyshire.

29th June 2023


Janet is a writer who usually blogs at https://foowr.org.uk/notesfrombambi/ sometimes more coherently than at others.


Bambi is her elderly camper van also known as the Mobile Chapel of St Scholastica. It's Scholastica who keeps Janet connected to St Benedict in spite of her various wanderings.


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