In today’s Gospel reading on the Feast Day of St. Benedict of Nursia, Jesus tells us why we must give up our possessions if we are to follow him. It has to do with commitment. This is a common thread through the Gospels: no one can serve two masters, so we need to figure out who and what is most important to us. We need to count up the cost of discipleship and either commit all the way or do something else with our lives.
For me, today, the issue boils down to how I spend my moments. Are there commitments that take me away from my prayer time, that time I spend listening to and communicating with God? That is the most essential thing that I do in a day, and everything else springs from it. Even writing this reflection can get in the way of that practice. When and how am I truly opening the ears of my heart to perceive my Creator?
This leads me to ponder: what is the tower or the military campaign that Jesus alludes to in this reading? How is following Jesus a huge project that demands all my resources and maybe more? How must I give up my possessions in order to insure its success?
An image of an inner tower has come into my mind, a Soul-making that without my steady commitment will never amount to much. The ancient Chinese thought of the tower as a symbol for contemplation. From the top of a tower one can see across the surrounding countryside in all directions. It represents a perspective that is not mired in little things but that understands a broader, unifying meaning. The tower can also be seen from every vantage. It represents the person who is an example to others, a peaceful, centered presence.
And the conquering army – a far less palatable image for me – strikes me today as being about the effort of opening my heart entirely to the Christ presence within. I have to muster all my resources or nothing much comes of the effort.
St. Benedict, who lived in the Sixth Century, was the founder of Western monasticism. His lasting gift to Christian practice was a simple and comprehensive rule of life, a way for us to order our days so that following Jesus is central. It involved a rhythm of work, rest, study and prayer that a monk could commit to, and it was a way of mustering resources so that the monk could build his inner tower and give his heart entirely to Christ, who dwells at our core.
Under the leadership of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the Episcopal Church is turning to a rule of life that does the same thing. It’s a path each one of us can embrace, whether we are monastics or we live in the world. We can also embrace it together in our churches in another level of becoming God’s people. It has seven parts: turn to Christ, learn, pray, worship, bless those around us, go beyond our circles of support into the larger world, and rest. The introduction to it is here. In practicing this rule individually, and together, we become towers that can both see and be seen from afar. Our churches become beacons of Christ’s love.
If we have decided to follow Christ, giving up our possessions means re-purposing them in one way or another so that they help us to do that. Heading in one direction and one only, all our resources are placed in the service of God. May we keep on growing in our understanding of what that means. Individually and jointly, let us build towers of our hearts to be beacons to the world.