WITH A HUMBLE PERSEVERANCE
READ: Hebrews 12:1-2a
“With all the others who have endured the suffering for the sake of the faith, we, too, ought to throw off everything that weighs us down and the sin that holds us back, and with perseverance keep running in the race which lies ahead of us. Let us keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings our faith to perfection …” – Hebrews 12:1-2a
Near the window of my hermitage (my writer’s cabin) an industrious spider has spent its day weaving an intricate web. I find it wondrous this divine beckoning that does call upon the ways of Creation to evolve such amazing and often quite unexpected skills. Here this wisp of a creature draws upon its instinct to create such a delicate yet powerful work of art, and does so merely out of the substance of its own self and at the direction of a Teacher whose voice I cannot hear. From a chosen center, upon a first pioneering thread, this spider has worked its way in measured pattern, round and round, now and then, downward and upward, hooking gossamer threads upon each other. And as the spider worked away, I thought of the perfection of both creature and creation, a perfection made perfect in its willingness to be slightly imperfect. Most threads were exactly spaced, but now and then, a wind would rise, the spider would adapt so as to continue on, leaving here and there, slight variations in the design’s perfect plan. Some might call these variations, defects in the perfection; the Benedictine soul calls them rather evidence of the perseverance within the perfection.
When one observes in contemplative patience the handiwork of God, one inevitably discovers that Creation has its own definition of divine perfection. The perfect, oak tree has limbs that bend and turn, they are not all straight and of equal length; the perfect flight of a barn swallow has its erratic darts and swirling swoops in its reaching of its destination; the flowing river cuts its course with a most imperfect perfection, yielding here and turning there, slowing, quickening; and the clouds above shape themselves in perfect shapes of many kinds but always in its imperfect-perfect way. It is only the human mind and the human hubris that defines perfection in straight lines and equal-measured spaces. The divine definition of perfection achieves perfection in its willingness to humbly persevere, always adapting to the occasional chaos and the occasional straying breeze; the human definition of perfection will always eventually fail, break down in its own rigidity, and fall far short of its eternal destiny.
The Rule of Saint Benedict, the Constitution you might say of the Benedictine Way, has endured for some 15 centuries. It was a guidebook for living together in Christian community. You would think this way for living the monastic life would be a treatise on life lived in a perfectly ordered utopian world. But it is not, far from it. The Rule of Saint Benedict, strict and definitive as it is, still makes room for adaptability to cultures and persons, still depends upon some measure of adaptive flexibility. I believe this is why the Benedictine approach to Christian community and Christian discipleship continues to endure, while Utopian communities of all designs have come and gone with the passing of time.
In the New Testament, Jesus, Paul, and others remind us that we as Christian disciples are indeed called to Perfection, but a Perfection that is designed by the God who created spiders and barn swallows, oak trees and rivers, and even fanciful clouds. All these are Perfect in God’s way of doing eternal life, creatures beckoned by a sure and steady call but given the innate wisdom to humbly adapt to wayward winds and changing needs. God never changes … this is true … but this way of adapting and persevering has ALWAYS been God’s way of extending His Creation through the dimension of Time.
None of us can endure long trying to be humanly perfect – keeping ALL the rules, coloring within ALL the lines, carving traditions into tablets of stone. But we CAN endure forever if we pursue perfection in God’s Way, if we allow ourselves to humbly persevere through wayward winds and changing needs.
Pursue perfection, but not in the rigid lines and patterns of humanly-defined holiness, but in humble and gentle ways, in a persevering quest for a more Christ-like quality of spirit and life.
Brother Anthony of the Cross
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