Sister Bridget got the last word in many issues of Benedictine Bridge. For some, her writings were a favorite as she mingled Benedictine insight with straightforward thinking. It may even be a surprise to find this writing from the Ordinary Times 2000 issue of our newsletter bringing together Douglas Addams’ character, Arthur Dent, and the founder of western monasticism, St. Benedict.
Let me say this about that: 1,500 years is a long time. Put another way, one thousand five hundred years is a mindbogglingly long period of time. Remember Arthur Dent? He was the guy wearing a bathrobe who hitchhiked throughout the galaxy following adventure and alien life-forms. He was the brainchild of Douglas Addams and the British Broadcasting Corporation. Lots of things are always mindbogglingly whatever to Arthur. I mean, he’s a guy who wears a bathrobe for Pete’s sake. He carries a towel because it’s the most useful thing to have while hitchhiking the galaxy, and this makes the northern European distributor of the adverb “mindbogglingly.”
The Rule of Benedict transcends time
I speak of Saint Benedict–not of his bathrobe, but of the anniversary of his birth. Fifteen hundred years is a mindbogglingly long time ago. It puts our mere life spans into a new perspective. It even changes the perspective of time from the great schisms of the church–the Protestant Reformation and the split between the Eastern and Latin churches. How is it that the simple ways of living prescribed in Benedict’s Rule have survived the tides of time, even the high tides of folks killing each other over “from” or “through”–as many of the obstacles to true church unity or even simple ecumenical tolerance have boiled down to.
If “ecumenism” is about the whole, what would the advice for living for monastics have to do with ecumenism? Aren’t rules about “who’s in” and “who’s out”? Are you really playing Scrabble if some of you are using French words and others German? The alphabet is the same, but the game is only an imitation of Scrabble.
This is about the bathrobe and the towel. Arthur Dent’s bathrobe, not Benedict’s. Didn’t you ever wonder why, adventure after adventure, book after book, Arthur kept showing up in his bathrobe? Those of us who have extended relationships with favorite articles of clothing are realistic enough to know that a certain amount of wear and tear eventually take their toll on even top quality faves in our closet. Arthur’s bathrobe endures in part because it’s fiction. It also endures because it’s his schtick. It’s essential to who he is within the adventure. It’s essential to who he is within the adventure. We listeners/readers identify him as Arthur Dent because of the bathrobe. That’s the way it is with Benedict’s Rule. Even in the face of ecumenism with its built-in difference and diversity, the Rule defines itself by the center, and that’s what makes it the Rule.
Ecumenism and the Rule
Ecumenism works in monastic community because the Rule is not about drawing a line. You are “in” because you do this. You are “out” because you do that. At the center of the Rule of Benedict is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s that stability thing again! The community itself is part the stability, but the Rule is the means of community. If the community agrees to seek God through the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the Rule is the means of holding the community together.
Whatever planet he shows up on, we know it’s Arthur because of the bathrobe. We know he is still hitchhiking because he has his towel. Whatever the individual’s tradition, we know the whole is Benedictine because it is seeking God. We know it is community because it follows the Rule. A towel is the most useful thing in the galaxy to a hitchhiker.