Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 20, Keeping It Short

Chapters 8-19 in The Rule of St. Benedict, as noted last week, deal mainly with the Divine Office, the praying of the psalms considered to be the main work of the monks. We come out of that material in Chapter 20 which is entitled "Reverence in Prayer." Benedict instructs:
3We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words. 4Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. 5In community, however, prayer should always be brief...
All I can say is Amen to that.

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2 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 20, Keeping It Short”

  1. Hmmm... imho, depends on the context. If we put ourselves into Benedict's day, when monastics were living in isolation and immersed in prayer and fasting 24/7, and even more than that... certainly shorter was better. Clearly (to me, anyway), Benedict was looking to balance the work of the day with the  work of prayer - and ultimately to interweave both into a seamless fabric. But if one looks at the context of Benedict's time, and then at Benedict's requirements/suggestions for the Divine Office, I don't think that Benedict's idea of "shorter" would at all make sense in our uber-busy, self-involved days.

    I've just recently been following the Benedictine divine office (minus the vigils... sigh) and I think that in our cultural context, the rule of Benedict regarding prayer would seem like "way more" rather than "way less".

    And really, are many of us really praying too long???? Not me, that's for sure.

  2. It might be that Benedict, and monasticism in general, present a certain resolution to the riddle posed by these two passages:

    "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:7-8)
    "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (Thessalonians 5: 16-17)In the Orthodox tradition, this is resolved through a practice of praying the Jesus prayer continually: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner." While this resolution has a lot more to it than this, I'll just cheekily note that the prayer is both very short and continual :) Although I think the real point is that you shouldn't pray thinking you are convincing God of something; instead, it should be a form of rejoicing, an exercise in gratitude, a form of communion with God. Not to say that this is the only way to resolve the tension between these passages, but I think it is at least an instructive one, and it has successfully and continually been embedded in real communities for ages.

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