Benedict’s Rule: Sapiential Theology

Once again, we are walking back over some territory previously covered in this blog, but we’re doing it using fresh insights from Esther de Waal in Seeking God.

Today, we’re back to the term sapiential theology.  It’s theology that is lived, not just believed—an expression of faith, not just a profession of it.  The Rule of Benedict is “theology performed”—day in, and day out—alone and in community—through worship and work.

This is God’s intention, and it’s the same one we have as parents.  Nothing is more frustrating than trying to tell our children something we think is important, only to watch them roll their eyes and stare in all directions other than toward us.  When this is happening we sometimes stop what we’re saying and exclaim, “You are not paying attention to a word I am saying!”  We hope that exhortation kicks the ball into play.

How often God must want to say the same thing to us.  We “hear” (that is, our ears pick up the sound waves), but we do not listen.  We do not pay attention.

And the reason (says de Waal—as does Benedict) is simple:  self-interest.  We pick up the decibles, but we do not intend to put what we hear into practice.  Nothing causes the will of God to fall on “deaf ears” more than egotism.  That’s why we have a Rule in the first place—a wise document written precisely to get us out of self-reference, self-reliance, self-centeredness, and self-interest—and to move us into formative community.

It goes against the grain of our modern way of thinking, but one of the holiest responses we can make to life is, “I don’t know”—with the “I” meaning the knowledge perpetrated on us by the ego.  The “I” does not know, and even if it does, it doesn’t care.

Instead, we suspend clinging to our preconceived notions and say, “I don’t know, but when God let’s me know, I’ll do whatever He tells me.”  We take that desire and put it into community, where accountability and the wisdom of Scripture and tradition not only keeps us safe from our egotism, but also shapes us into conformity to Christ, who said, “not my will, but thine be done.”


About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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