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Prayer for the week

by
10 May 2013

Rob Gillion reflects on St Benedict's prayer of waiting upon God

GALLERIA DEGLI UFFIZI, FLORENCE

Contemplating: St Benedict by Hans Memling, in a detail from the Portinari Triptych

Contemplating: St Benedict by Hans Memling, in a detail from the Portinari Triptych

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.

Grant me:
a perfect end,
your holy presence,
a blessed resurrection,
and life everlasting.

St Benedict (480-547)

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.

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