At the entrance to the monastery there should be a wise senior who is too mature in stability to think of wandering about and who can deal with the enquiries and give whatever help is required. This official’s room should be near the main door so that visitors will always find someone there to greet them. As soon as anyone knocks on the door or one of the poor calls out, the response, uttered at once with gentle piety and warm charity, should be ‘thanks be to God’ or ‘your blessing, please’. If the porter or portress needs help, then a junior should be assigned this task. (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 66)
I keep thinking about the words we speak and St. Benedict’s charge to the "porter or portress" of the monastery, that their words should be gently pious and full of warm charity. Those two requests, that notion of piety and charity? They're totally not our style.
That’s not to say the Christian sub-culture isn’t full of piety. In fact, we love piety and have filled up books with every kind of Christian-y clichéd phrase so that we can most easily express our piety. (For more on those clichés, see my friend Addie Zierman’s blog). The problem with most piety is that it doesn’t get lived or spoken with gentleness. In fact, I would say that piety is such a charged word for me (and my generation) that if I heard something “pious” spoken with gentleness, pious would be the last thing I’d call it.
If we as a culture truly valued depth and stability and true kindness, we would change much of what we speak, especially what and how we speak about God.
We believers are rarely gentle with each other. When it comes to piety, we use our words to battle over theological stances, to speak judgment into each other’s circumstances. Moms battle over ideas of work and non work, sleep training and child rearing. We speak to each other at play dates with frantic worry. We speak with fearful, wandering minds.
And then, when we want to calm down, we speak with sarcastic snark. It’s like we don’t know how to be sincere anymore. All we know is how to battle, how to worry together, how to make fun of ourselves.
Of course, that’s a generalization. Of course, there are those who are kind, earnest, and sincere in their language. But there’s a reason Jon Stewart is the voice for our generation. We don’t know how to see the world except through the lens of the scoffer.
If I’m going to Practice Benedict, I need more than spiritual notions for my heart. I need to change the words I’m saying and how I say them. What does it mean to speak with gentleness? What are the walls that my sarcasm has built up in order to protect me from emotional and relational pain?
We all crave beauty. We all crave earnestness. I’m convinced we’re simply afraid of it. We’re afraid of piety because it has always been harsh. We’re afraid of speaking with charity because we don’t know how to convey warmth. Instead, we take the easy way out. We joke. One of the most beautiful things about Christianity is the high calling to live counter-culturally. What if we counter our culture by speaking true words with kindness?
Now is when I confess that I’m the severe sarcastic type. My humor is totally wrapped up in snarky remarks and I don’t see that changing any time soon. In fact, I’m not saying that I need to stop being sarcastic. But, I’m convicted by the thought that my first response is most often to make a joke instead of speak to the need in front of me.
What I want is to be the deep elder with a heart of stability.
What I want is to grow into the faithful one at the door waiting for the pilgrims. I want to live patiently aware so that as soon as anyone knocks on the door longing for a place to stay, a place to belong, a place where words are spoken that have weight and joy inside them, I will be brave enough to utter the good truth, to speak love with warmth and hold out piety with gentle hands.