To see differently

Mar 20, 2017

Of all the stories told about Benedict of Nursia, this one may be the most impacting of all on our lives. Most of us will never work miracles or found monasteries, but one thing we can all learn to do is to see. This story is about a special kind of seeing.

Benedict left the company of a neighboring abbot after an evening’s conversation about the spiritual life. The period predates both universities and books, remember, let alone televisions and computers. Personal conversation was the key to learning then—a factor that may well explain the popularity of gurus and spiritual masters in that culture. At any rate, people came in droves to talk to Benedict about their spiritual questions, the great no less than the simple.

On this particular night, it is Abbot Severanus, a deeply prayerful person himself, with whom Benedict has been talking. But then, returning to his own room, alone and filled with ideas on the spiritual life, Benedict suddenly began to see what he had never seen before: the sky filled with light “more brilliant than the sun, and with it every trace of darkness cleared away.” Then according to his biographer, Benedict “saw the whole world as a single ray of light.” Benedict had developed sight and insight. Benedict had begun to see things differently.

The implications for us and our own lives abound.

•What Benedict saw outside of himself is what he already had inside of himself—breadth of soul, compassion and openheartedness.

•The spiritual life enlarges a person’s vision.

•When we begin to see as God sees, we see far beyond ourselves.

•When we fail “to see the whole world in one ray of light,” we imprison ourselves inside our own small selves without ideas, without experiences, without love.

•Remember that it was after they had been discussing spiritual things that Benedict’s vision was enlarged to include the whole world. It takes a spiritual sensitivity to hold the whole globe and all its needs in our heart. Any spirituality that makes our hearts narrower than the globe is a bogus spirituality for sure.

—from The Radical Christian Life by Joan Chittister (Liturgical Press)

The Radical Christian Life by Joan Chittister

The Radical Christian Life

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