Last Friday night and Saturday I was again privileged to be present at the annual program on Benedictine Spirituality sponsored by the Friends of St. Benedict and St. David’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC and hosted by St. Alban’s. The attendees heard the important message about achieving balance in life. Once again I was visited with what I think is a new way of understanding Christian marriage that came to me at either last year’s gathering or a similar one on the lessons that the monastic life has to teach the rest of us
The basic message of the Friends of St. Benedict is, if I understand it correctly, that one does not have to enter a monastic community to have the balance of work, prayer and leisure that the Rule of St. Benedict laid out for his community centuries ago. They seek to impart this through what they call a Benedictine Experience, a few days in a group following the Benedictine structure of the hours of the day.
The insight I had on both of these occasions is simply this. We all know, of course, having heard it at wedding rehearsals, that at a church wedding, two things are happening. First, a new civic organization is being created – a family. The ministers of a church are acting as agents of the State in creating this new civic organization. The family is licensed by the State and the minister is also licensed by the State to be the instrument of its creation. It is analogous to the formation of a corporation – another form of civic organization chartered or licensed, by the State.
But in a church wedding, something additional is happening, something that I don’t think I’ve ever heard expressed in quite this way. Not only is a new civic organization being created. A new religious community is also being created at the same time. That is, each new family created by a Christian marriage is like a new little monastery or convent. And what makes, or should make, them different from and more than mere civic families is a prayer life, ideally a life of corporate prayer by the members of the community, including training up new members in a life of prayer as they are born into or otherwise incorporated into the community. And just as civic families contribute to and derive strength from the larger civic organizations, the cities and States of which they are a part, so too do these many little religions communities contribute to and derive strength from the larger religious organization of which they are a part, the parish and the diocese.
As I’m about to conclude this I’m wondering how single people might take it. Not badly I hope. After all, there are parallels in the religious tradition of persons living a single life. Some have even gone so far as to be recognized by their bishop as religious solitaries. In both cases, of single and married persons, the difference between being only a civic entity and being also a religious one is a life in which regular and intentional prayer is an integral part. For Episcopalians, of course, that would be the Daily Office and weekly Eucharist. Indeed, I once heard of someone who gave up his association with a monastic order because he came to believe that the discipline he was practicing as an associate was simply his minimal duty as an Episcopalian.
Well, to quote Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that. And maybe it is nothing new to anyone but me. But I had to have a go at expressing it. Thanks for listening.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 19-November-2013.