Second Sunday after Christmas, 2nd January 2022
Wisdom is elusive, easily lost. This is the story of Israel, of Jerusalem, of humankind and the story too of Jesus. God’s spirit has been at work throughout but our history is one of evasion, of hiding from wisdom’s truths, of observing them with as much other activity and false reasoning as possible – often in the name of freedom. The list is long but one obvious example today is the sexualisation of the young without due boundaries and the horror, and perhaps hypocrisy, which now greets Ghislaine Maxwell’s case – we have a youth culture now which places enormous pressure on young people, that is adolescents, to decide for themselves what is in their best interests. I’m only just beginning to find that out for myself at 68 and was all over the place as an adolescent, desperately in need of guidance which just wasn’t there.
Contrast the Rule of St Benedict where every aspect of a monk’s life, from child to man, is at least commented upon:
‘Whether all should receive in equal measure what is needful’
‘At what times the meals should be’
‘If a brother is commanded to do the impossible’
‘The good zeal which monks ought to have’
And perhaps, best of all, its last chapter:
‘Why not all the observance of righteousness is set up in this Rule’
Modestly describing itself as only a ‘very small rule for beginners’ and pointing us to many other sources of wisdom, of inspiration – including of course the Scriptures of both the New and Old Testaments. And it’s this sort of modesty, allowing for other sources of wisdom, that makes the Rule so companionable and wise – much is left to the discretion of the Abbot with charity as a prime concern, that is love – not love without constraints but constraints with love. Without love this power, this need for authority, can be abused, as we’ve seen within monasticism itself and the Church more generally. So there’s a forever tension between the need for boundaries within which we can flourish and come to maturity and their abuse, their use that is to prevent us reaching that goal, that gift, of holiness which is our true end. I’m thinking there of Dom Gregory watching me once digging a huge hole in the garden supposedly in search of Ground Elder and its roots, simply smiling and leaving me to it and much later telling me that his job was not to interfere but simply to hold the boundaries while the monks learned to play – what he saw was me in a sandpit reliving a childhood in order to start again. Now this is wisdom, this is the Word, this is Christ, allowing each of us a new beginning.