Thursday, March 19, 2009

Benedictine prayer

Last week I went to a meet held at a meeting being held at the Southern Star Cistercian (Benedictine) Abbey at Kopua, near Dannevirke. Most of our time was retreaty. A big part of that was joining the brothers for their daily office: at 6am, 8am, 11.30am, 2pm, 6pm, 8pm. Most of these consisted of a hymn, singing three psalms, short bible reading, short prayer, blessing, and Marion anthem (and angelus at 6am, 11.30 and 6pm) The fist service I went to I thought “O my Lord, this might be a little tedious”. The singing was not great, it seemed slow, the seats were not so comfy. But after one or two services it grew on me. I fell into the rhythm. The chants entered into me. I went to sleep with the tune in my head. I woke singing “Praise to the Father the Almighty, and to the son Jesus Christ our lord, and to the Spirit who dwells in our hearts, both now and forever amen.” It was amazingly stilling, and earthing. And it was nice to get in touch with some of our Anglican roots. Cranmer was influenced by the Benedictines, and our daily offices were based on a desire by Cranmer for all of England to experience in some way what the religious lived out in their monasteries. How far we have slipped from that ideal.
While there I was introduced to the writing of John Cassian through Margaret Mary Funk in the book Thoughts Matter. Cassian developed an early psychology really, stating that to grow in love we needed to pay attention to our thoughts, so that we might not pay attention to the negative thoughts around food, sex, things, anger, vainglory, (and that is as far as I have got) and so not allow those thoughts to lead to vices, and instead we may grow in virtue. Gregory the great simplified this system into the seven deadly sins, which lost a lot of what Cassian was on about. The Irish used it to develop their own penitential rites which were much more in line with Cassian, but these were again taken and modified in Europe into things to do to atone for sins, rather than ways of paying attention to the root of those sins and growing virtues instead. In the prayers were prayed for help in their dark temptation. Ordinarily I would have laughed at that, but this really helped me work out what that is all about. Really helpful few days really.