If we wish to dwell in God’s tent, we will never arrive there unless we run there by doing good deeds. But let us ask with the prophet: “Who will dwell in your tent, O God; who will find rest upon your holy mountain?” (Ps. 15:1). After this question, then, let us listen well to what God says in reply, for we are shown the way to God’s tent. “Those who walk without blemish and are just in all their dealings; who speak truth from the heart and have not practiced deceit; who have not wronged another in any way, not listened to slanders against a neighbour” (Ps. 15:2,3). They have foiled the evil one at every turn, flinging both the devil and these wicked promptings far from sight. While these temptations were still “young, the just caught hold of them and dashed them against Christ” (Ps. 15:4, 137:9). These people reverence God, and do not become elated over their good deeds; they judge it as God’s strength, not their own, that brings about the good in them. “They praise” (Ps. 15:4) the Holy One working in them, and say with the prophet: “Not to us, O God, not to us give the glory, but to your name alone” (Ps. 115:1).
The Rule here speaks of doing good deeds in God’s strength, not our own. Trying to live life by my strength alone is living with attention caught in the “closed system of self-consciousness”*. We close ourselves off from the fullness of who we are, and who God is, at our depths. Life can become a forceful and stubborn struggle. We need others around us who love us enough to help us see when we fall into this trap. And we fall in it often. This is why human life needs community.
Being caught in this closed system reveals insecurity in our psychology that originates from a lack in the experience of true love. This is part of the human journey. The Rule asks us to be courageous and embrace the setting aside of our own isolated agenda of ego security and identity maintenance. We do this together, stumbling along in the practical ways of love. The Rule is a guide and a framework for our stumbling. As we stumble we learn to walk.
In time we come to appreciate more and more that we cannot make ourselves good with our deeds; nor can we force our deeds to be a consistent reflection of the goodness in us. The good in us is the Divine Life. Only God is good (Mark 10:18). Within us is the goodness that we already are as a divine creation. Closed off from this we forget it.
The Rule sets out a way in which we, together, can practice participating in divine goodness. As we learn to live from this goodness and be more attentive to it life becomes more about the revelation of this goodness (God’s glory) in our lives and less about attention on me. Someone grounded enough in the love that is in all of us is secure enough in their psyche to allow the attention of others to pass them by. Community can then grow in being an expression of divine glory as we embrace the spiritual reality of Love.
Benedict teaches us here that human goodness is a just and pure heart, honesty and integrity. As we practice loving in community it is grace that loves us into a wholeness that sees us more and more living from this goodness, centred in God. Our participation in God’s goodness shows us our goodness in God. Divinity is the good that opens the closed system of self-consciousness to the goodness at our depths.
The antitheses of goodness are a temptation. These ‘wicked promptings’, tendencies of attitude and desire, grow in us from an early age. As we develop we learn to lie as a way of self-protection. Our fear of rejection compromises our human growth in goodness. The world around us seems to confirm the lie that we are unlovable. Self-consciousness coalesces in self-defence and believes the story that says vulnerability is weakness.
But with us is Christ – a consciousness both human and divine, living both within and among us. Benedict maintains that if we can see these promptings in us early enough, while they are “still young” we can, with practice, allow Christ to melt them away. The agenda of egoism is then dashed, thwarted. This is the influence of the name of Christ.
Living in a meditating community can help us grow in this early seeing. We can become aware of our inner tendencies to turn from the good, and how we act and react accordingly. Meditation trains attention on the good of Christ deep in us, allowing grace to develop space between our actions and our distorted promptings as grace melts them away. This is our release from self-consciousness. It is the work of a meditating community, the work of finding rest on God’s “holy mountain”. To rest there, we must do some climbing. We climb together, growing in divine strength and goodness.
Besides you know the time has come; the moment is here for you to stop sleeping and wake up, because by now our salvation is nearer than when we first began to believe. The night is nearly over, daylight is on the way; so let us throw off everything that belongs to the darkness and equip ourselves for the light…Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ and stop worrying about how your disordered natural inclinations may be fulfilled (Romans 13:11-12,14 NJB).
* John Main, The Heart of Creation, 77