Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 57, The Artisans of the Monastery

Chapter 57 of The Rule of St. Benedict has to do with artisans practicing within the monastery. Happily, Benedict welcomes artisans into the monastic community. However, Benedict is keen to have the artisans practice their art and craft with humility. Artists and artisans aren't to become celebrities or elite. No rockstars allowed.
1If there are artisans in the monastery, they are to practice their craft with all humility...2If one of them becomes puffed up by his skillfulness in his craft, and feels he is conferring something on the monastery, 3he is to be removed from practicing his craft and not allowed to resume it unless, after manifesting his humility, he is so ordered by the abbot.
One wonders if praise bands need to read this every week.

But seriously, talent, particularly artistic talent, is a gift for the community, but it does present a host of temptations as the talented are honored, respected and praised over those with less talent. The talented get to be "up front" while those with less talent are never seen or heard from. For example, when was the last time you heard a mentally disabled person deliver a sermon? Or lead singing or a prayer?

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11 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 57, The Artisans of the Monastery”

  1. We were richly blessed the other week when one of our young members asked if he could tell us what it's like to struggle with his particular learning difficulties. I asked his parents if they'd be happy to pass on this letter to him afterwards:

    Dear Stuart (name changed)

    I'm sorry not to have been able to see you after church this morning, but I understand you weren't feeling at all well. I do hope you're feeling a little better today.

    I just wanted to say 'Thank-you' for what you said in the church service.

    Sometimes, at work, I meet young people who don't fit in. They sometimes act in ways that make life uncomfortable for others. They are often on the edge of things - often much more lonely and scared than they pretend to be.

    My job is to understand what they need so that they can belong again.

    Sometimes, I sit in meetings with big, powerful people who think they know what's best for the young person. And sometimes, I have to choose whether to go along with the crowd or whether to speak up and say what's right - to give a voice to the young person, who isn't usually there to speak for themselves. And that can be a hard and a scary thing to do.

    But next time I have to make that decision - between the easy choice and the hard choice; between speaking up or staying quiet - I shall think of you, Stuart, standing at the front this morning. I think that was the bravest thing I have seen for a long time. It will help me to make the right choice.

    I know a lot of other people felt the same way, so, from all of us, thank-you for giving a voice to those who aren't always heard. Thank-you for inspiring and challenging us.

    I'm so glad things are starting to get a little easier for you. I know that God cares for you very much and will always be there for you in the future.

    With very best wishes as you get over your illness and continue on your journey.


  2. Professional math geek here, but I wonder how much this also contributes to people feeling like their talents "are not good enough for God." I don't lead singing, teach a class, or preach, so I must not be important.

    Maybe I need to read about the 2 mites again.....

  3. Benedict gets the balance well, doesn't he?

    I sometimes see the opposite problem--in the spirit of democracy, everyone (including color-challenged people like me) is asked to participate in a strict one-man, one-vote election on the color of the carpet, instead of recognizing gifted and passionate people and letting them use their artistic skills for the greater good.

  4. As a music major senior I, as most all aspiring musicians, hoped to play somewhere close to the top of the section after three years of preparation. This was not to be. A truly talented and well polished freshman enrolled, was almost immediately placed on first chair and remained so until his graduatuion. He later taught there as a graduate student, went on to head a large university music department and was one of the early presidents of the International Trombone Association. Forced to live with this startling situation, I tried not to resent the gifted player (well, not too hard! :). The Rule has a lot to teach me for sure! I know a player who had him as a teacher. Said he was the best he ever had. We find our place. We serve. We thank God for life and the opportunity it gives us to strive for excellence and contribution. Egos.....we keep squirming off the altar.....skewing perspective and purpose.

  5. Milton died impoverished in England and barely made a shilling on Paradise Lost.

  6. Richard, your are right on regarding praise bands. I have witnessed a few take to the "stage" a bit full of themselves. To be honest, though, sometimes I think that a song director isn't even necessary. I am convinced that a little gray haired lady sitting the fourth row, though squeaky her voice may be, can spontaneously be the spark of inspiration and spirit much more than an individual "up front" waving his arm in time as if it actually made the singing better. And this is coming from one who learned to direct time when he was six years old.

    I am not sure how easily it could be done, but I believe that the typical evangelical church needs to move away from the "show" format and be reborn into assemblies where each person contributed to, and experienced, a transcending day. The only individual who would need everyone's undivided attention would be the one breaking the bread of life. Let a person break the bread from a broken heart and he or she will break the dam that has been holding back the river of living waters.

  7. One of our congregants for years was a mentally handicapped person who, maybe three or four times a year - at his request - sang for us. "I come to the garden" was his favorite. Technically speaking, it was awful. Spiritually, we all cried our eyes out, every time.

  8. Sometimes understand the complete opposite problem--in the actual spirit regarding democracy, all people (including color-challenged individuals such as me) can be requested to help be involved in a new rigorous one-man, one-vote election for the shade in the rug, instead of discerning given in addition to fervent individuals in addition to letting them utilize their artistic knowledge with the larger beneficial.

  9. You make an excellent point here. When I was growing up in a small church we all belted out the hymns while someone banged out the tune on an old piano. There were no star singers or musicians. But now the praise band is so loud it's impossible to make out the voice of even the person next to you, and to be a singer or musician in the band one must audition for the part.

  10. Physical markings for spiritual identification are quite old: "...And another will write on his hand, 'Belonging to the Lord...'"( Isa. 44:5). "Behold I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (Isa. 49:16). How can anyone imagine Jesus automatically dismissing someone for any outward scaring? Where I attend, the members want anyone walking through the door to already look like they look, dress like they dress, talk like they talk, and have many of their values.

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