Item description for Living With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality by Esther De Waal...
Overview Historian and retreat leader, De Waal has for years used the Benedictine Rule and its three-pronged emphasis on work, study, and prayer as the basis for her own spiritual life. Her resultant observations, written in her inimitable style, demonstrate the Rule's centuries-old appeal.
These simple and inviting reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict take as their starting point our search for wholeness in a world that is fragmented and increasingly polarized. Many people today struggle to balance the demands of professional and personal lives, and find little satisfaction or peacefulness in either. Yet the ancient wisdom of St. Benedict offers a clear and helpful pathway that leads directly to healing, transformation and new life.
Written in de Waal's inimitable style, this book is for old friends of the Rule of St. Benedict and novices alike. Holding up segments of the Rule, de Waal's meditations on Benedict's words illuminate the wisdom of the Rule not only for those of Benedict's time, but for all of us today as well.
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Esther de Waal lives in a small cottage on the Welsh/English border. After studying and teaching history at Cambridge University, she married, had four sons, and moved to Canterbury, where she lived in a house that had been part of the medieval monastic community. She leads retreats, lectures, and travels widely. Her major interests are the fields of the Benedictine and Celtic traditions.
Reviews - What do customers think about Living With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality?
Living With Contradiction Oct 3, 2007
Provides an excellent insight how the Rule guides us on the path closer to God. Brought up some excellent points on living a Christian life that I will apply to my personal life.
Living in the tension Jan 5, 2005
The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is 'Listen'. This rule, composed centuries ago for Benedict's community, and continued by communities across the world to this day, is a powerful way of living into the fullness of God's grace and love. However, as the title of this text by Esther de Waal indicates, it is not always an easy rule, nor one that is immediately grasped and completely understood.
The monastics and oblates of Benedict's orders take vows, typically being poverty, obedience, chastity and conversion of life (the oblate's vows are modified to reflect the reality of living outside the enclosed monastic community, but the vows are derivative of the same root). It is the last vow, conversion of life, that perhaps at the heart of this book. Conversion in this context is not a once-for-all, 'road to Damascus' kind of experience, but rather a daily decision to continue working toward a new kind of life.
De Waal's first chapter deals with healing - we live broken lives in a broken world, and not just in the physical well-being sense. Using images from the biblical texts such as the Garden of Eden and the Cross, prayers from St. Anselm and the text of St. Benedict, she weaves ideas of healing, wholeness, and fullness even as we recognise our short-comings and brokenness. God accepts us for who we are at each point, but calls us to a perfection that we can never really attain. If this seems like a paradox, you're on to something.
The next chapter is entitled 'The Power of Paradox'. The monastic movement has always had at its heart a paradoxical call to be individual (the Latin root of the word monastic is mono, meaning 'one' or 'singular') in the context of community. The Christian call to be in the world but not of the world, to resist the world yet work within the world, is another such paradox. De Waal illuminates several such paradoxes, including the primary Christian paradox of the Cross, both an image of death and life, of defeat and of victory.
'Paradox' is sometimes considered a fancy word for contradiction. Benedict's Rule seems full of contradiction, just as life seems many times. Benedict looks to today as the primary focus of activity and energy, but also looks forward to the future as the most important. Benedict requires a life of service to others and the practice of hospitality, but also emphasises the need for solitude and withdraw from the world.
De Waal explores through the Rule of Benedict what it means to live with oneself, living with others in community, living in the world, and being both together and apart. Each person is endowed with gifts and graces, and has the potential for us to see Christ in them, if we will be attentive ('listen') and lose ourselves that we might also be Christ-like for the sake of others.
Contradictions that de Waal highlights include the difference between desert and marketplace (the early Desert Fathers were never quite as removed from the world as they might have wanted; the marketplace is not an 'unholy' or 'ungodly' place necessarily, for St. Paul often did his teaching while plying his trade as a tent-maker in the marketplace). Whichever avenue is taken, desert or marketplace, de Waal emphasises the necessity of prayer as an anchor - de Waal uses the example of Thomas Merton, a man in solitary prayer also completely involved with the world at large.
Saying 'yes' to the call of Benedict, to live a spiritual life, to live a life in the tensions of the contradictions, is never a simple intellectual assent, but rather one that has to come with the complete person, body and soul. It has to do with recognising the paschal mystery as both folly and wisdom, and recognising ourselves as having to always repeat the yes. According to de Waal, echoing the idea of conversion of life being an ongoing task, one must say 'yes' every day, repeating the'yes' and asking for blessing each night, and passing on the task to oneself and to others on a constant basis.
De Waal's reflections are not simple and easy. A small-format book, if one were reading for the words alone, the text could be completed in a matter of an hour or two, but this would be to lose the richness of Benedict's (and de Waal's) insights and images. This is a book for longer-term meditation, to be read as lectio divina, to be read for inspirational guidance, to be taken in small pieces like rich chocolates, to be savoured and appreciated slowly for the full experience.