Gracious and holy Father,
please give me:
intellect to understand you;
reason to discern you;
diligence to seek you;
wisdom to find you;
a spirit to know you;
a heart to meditate upon you;
ears to hear you;
eyes to see you;
a tongue to proclaim you;
a way of life pleasing to you;
patience to wait for you;
and perseverance to look for you.
a perfect end,
your holy presence,
a blessed resurrection,
and life everlasting.
THE Rule of St Benedict
begins with the word "Listen": it is an important part of the life
of prayer. In the noisy and often over-active world, it is
sometimes hard to hear what your heart is saying.
I led a quiet day
recently, and took part in my own silent retreat; so I led one, and
received one. It was a challenge for me, as I had so much going on
in the parish and in my head. But, at the end of the day, I felt
renewed and refreshed.
St Benedict's Rule
encourages solitude and silence in community, and, through his
teaching, the monastic tradition of silent contemplation was
encouraged, in order to keep the measured silence that is a
necessary prelude to real listening. The Rule also gives high
priority to a lived stability: monks are encouraged to "stay in the
place" - the abbey - and so the Benedictine monastery is renowned
for hospitality to those who visit, especially strangers. Prayer
and hospitality are a powerful combination.
I was drawn to this
prayer of St Benedict because, earlier this year, one of our
churches, Holy Trinity, Sloane Street, hosted an exhibition of
photos that offer glimpses into the life of some Trappist monks.
Francesca Phillips, the photographer, was given access to three
monasteries in Spain to capture the ancient way of life - a
testament to men devoted to spiritual service, in extraordinary
counterpoint to the modern world.
It brought back to me
fond memories of the Trappist Haven Monastery, now called Our Lady
of Joy Abbey, in my parish on Lantau Island, in Hong Kong, where a
remnant of monks lived: they were extremely elderly, but extremely
fit. We used to take a kaido (a small boat) over to the
quay, and walk up a very steep hill, which was punctuated by the
Stations of the Cross. These were useful for meditating on the way
up, and also for catching your breath.
At the top, we would be
met by one of the monks, who would be excited to talk. We always
received a small bottle of milk from the monks' herd of cows, and
some home-made cookies: hospitality at its best. We were then shown
to the chapel, and spent the rest of the day in contemplation,
broken only by the Offices. It is this prayer of St Benedict that
was a focus for the community.
Now, in our parish in
London, every Monday morning, I open the church at seven, and we
have a time of silent prayer, followed by breakfast. Not a word is
spoken; there is simply some eager listening. The prayer of St
Benedict is a wonderful reminder of the need to seek health in
body, mind, and spirit, by withdrawing from the busyness of our
lives to listen to our heart's desire.
The Revd Rob Gillion is the Rector of Holy Trinity, Sloane
Street, and St Saviour's, Upper Chelsea, in London.