Reading and Lent

I've been reading a book (which I'll talk about more in a later post) during Lent that is a series of talks given by Basil Pennington who was the abbot of the Cistercian monastery, Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Georgia. His talks focused around the Rule of Benedict, which I've gotten to know in the last few years. Many monastics use it as a guide for their communal life. And it is just a guide. Benedict himself acknowledges that monasteries will need to adapt and disregard some of it as needed. Therein lies the genius: knowing that it shouldn't be overly-rigid.

Our church uses the Rule of Benedict as a guide for living together. Clearly, much of it needs to be adapted as we aren't monastics living under the same roof. But the principles are helpful. Like children learning from adults and vice versa. Like practicing hospitality. Like being obedient and seeking peace. Like valuing work and prayer.

One of the things I like about Benedict's rule is the sense of rhythm and his adjustment for the seasons. Like in the winter monks are permitted an earlier bed time since it gets dark earlier. And during holy days, the rhythm of the monastery changes. In chapter 48 Benedict says:
During the days of Lent, they should be free in the morning to read until the third hour, after which they will work at their assigned tasks until the end of the tenth hour. During this time of Lent each one is to receive a book from the library, and is to read the whole of it straight through. These books are to be distributed at the beginning of Lent. Above all, one or two seniors must surely be deputed to make the rounds of the monastery while the brothers are reading. Their duty is to see that no brother is so apathetic as to waste time or engage in idle talk to the neglect of his reading, and so not only harm himself but also distract others. (RB 48:14-18)

As a bibliophile I love the decree that there should be some focused reading time during Lent. I also chuckle at the suggestion to have to senior monks checking to make sure everyone is using that time wisely. Benedict's principle here, though, is that Lent is a time for inward reflection and growth.

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Basil Pennington writes in his book Listen with Your Heart that "The meaning of Lent is a time when we really stop and ask ourselves, What is the meaning of it all? Who am I? What are we called to? It is a time to ask the deep questions and come to know the joy of life's meaningfulness."

It's a good quest to stop and ask those questions. Like much of the year, Lent tends to be full, so without intent I don't take the time to quiet myself and reflect (so I'm writing this post to help me make that time and think about those questions).

What questions are on your heart this Lenten season?

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