Overview and Initial Instructions

It is highly recommended that the leader of this small group study read Joan Chittister’s Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, in its entirety before starting to prepare for this Small Group Study. The overall flavor of the book will then be apparent before re-reading each chapter in preparation for the sessions.

The goal of this study is to encourage the participants to consider incorporating some or all of the Rule of St. Benedict into their everyday lives. The leader, therefore, must be open to the concepts within the pages of this remarkable work. Allow the simplicity of the Rule to guide you in the leading of the group, and above all else, openly encourage everyone’s sharing about the outcome of each of the exercises, whether good or bad.

 The leader’s reading assignments, prior to each session, are as follows:

  • Week One – Chapters 1 & 2, Appendix
  • Week Two – Chapter 3
  • Week Three – Chapter 4
  • Week Four – Chapter 5
  • Week Five – Chapter 6
  • Week Six – Chapters 7 & 8
  • Week Seven – Chapters 9 & 10
  • Week Eight – Chapter 11
  • Week Nine – Chapter 12
  • Week Ten – Chapter 13 & 14
  • Week Eleven – Chapter 15

Suggestions for highlighting certain texts or stories will be made in the sections correlating to each week, but the impact of the book on you, and the influence of God on the way you lead each week, is equally as important as the work the members will do. What follows, then, is not so much a formula as a suggestive guide. Be willing to follow the Rule in determining your approach. In this way, the study should be as edifying and fulfilling for you as, hopefully, it is for the participants.

 

Week One: Listening for God – Being an Open Heart

 Open with prayer by leader.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage. (Passage is read slowly and in a calm tone, savoring each word. Try not to place your own emphasis on words)

Romans 10:12-15

12 This includes everyone, because there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles; God is the same Lord of all and richly blesses all who call to him.

13 As the scripture says, “Everyone who calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.”

14 But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?

15 And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out? As the scripture says, “How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!”

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

(Hopefully each person will respond with at least a word. Once someone starts, the leader needs to encourage participation by accepting each and every answer as valid for that person. If unsure about the an answer or remark, simply ask for a little more detail. The key is what each person heard, not what the leader thinks he or she ‘should’ have heard, and how each preceding comment adds to that understanding. The leader can participate a little, but does not summarize and simply closes with a prayer when a reasonable conclusion is reached. The point is for each member to listen to the Scripture and the other participants to glean understanding.)

The leader could read aloud the “walking on water” story (p. 1), the “businessman” story (p.13), the “young seeker” story (p.16) and the “fruit of Heaven” story (p.25), allowing time for reflection and chat about each right after the reading.

Explain the exercises for the nest week.

 

Week Two: Prayer – Consciousness of God

Open with prayer, from a volunteer if someone is willing.

Discuss the previous week’s exercises. The point to this part of the exercise is to have each member open up about the way they were affected. Have them read or make comments from their notes. The leader may have to “prime the pump” to begin the process if nobody jumps up to start. Once the members understand the game plan, participation will likely be more spontaneous.

It is important to set a regular pattern for future weeks, although flexibility with the allotment of time is encouraged, to work within the guidelines of the Rule. Benedictine spirituality is based on regularity, and it would be beneficial to follow a form that demonstrates what that looks like.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage. (Passage is read slowly and in a calm tone, savoring each word. Try not to place your own emphasis on words)

 Matthew 6:7-13

7 “When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long.

8 Do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him.

9 This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven:  
May your holy name be honored;

10 may your Kingdom come; may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today the food we need

12 Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.

13 Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil.

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

Have someone read the following quotes aloud (they are in the hand book):

“Benedictine prayer is regular, universal, converting, reflective, and communal … To pray only when it suits us is to want God on out terms … To pray when we cannot, on the other hand, is to let God be our prayer … Prayer changes my own mind, lets me put on the mind of Christ, and enable grace to break into me … Contemplative prayer leads us to see our world through the eyes of God … And consciousness of God is perpetual prayer.”[2]

St. Benedict had a lot to say about prayer. Imagining spirituality as a stool, he saw prayer as one of the three legs of the foundation, along with meaningful work and holy leisure. Benedict believed prayer opened us to the plights of others – prayer is with, for and as a community or group.

Read the “find God” story (p.28) and the “three stages” story (p.37), allowing time for reflection and chat about each right after the reading.

Explain the exercises for the nest week.

 

Week Three: Community – Eating with 3ft Chopsticks

 Open with prayer, from a volunteer if someone is willing.

 Discuss the previous week’s exercises. The point to this part of the exercise is to have each member open up about the way they were affected. Have them read or make comments from their notes.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage.

Matthew 25: 34-40

34 Then the King will say to the people on his right, “Come, you that       are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.

35 I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes,

36 naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’

37 The righteous will then answer him, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?

38 When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you?

39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’

40 The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

 Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

Read aloud:

“In hell, the ancients said, people have chopsticks three feet long so they cannot possibly reach their mouths. In heaven, the chopsticks are also three feet long – but, in heaven, the people feed one another.”[3]

                Allow time for reflection and chat after the reading.

Explain the exercises for the nest week.

 

Week Four: Humility – Acknowledging God’s Gifts

Open with prayer, from a volunteer if someone is willing.

Discuss the previous week’s exercises. The point to this part of the exercise is to have each member open up about the way they were affected. Have them read or make comments from their notes. This should be much more comfortable by now.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage.

Romans 12:6-16

6 So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have;

7 if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach;

8 if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.

9 Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good.

10 Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another.

11 Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion.

12 Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.

13 Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers.

14 Ask God to bless those who persecute you-yes, ask him to bless, not to curse.

15 Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16 Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise.

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

Read aloud:

St. Benedict’s road to humility isn’t easy, but moving from believing we are the ‘owners’ of our worldly gifts and talents, to being the bearers of them, for God to the world, can be remarkably freeing. His rule lays out the following roadway to humility[4]:

  • 1. Remember we’re not God, God is – and He is with always.
  • 2. Accept the will of God – even in trying times.
  • 3. Accept that there are people who have authority over us. Give up arrogance and look for God’s will through others.
  • 4. Life is hard – not always impossible or immoral – just difficult sometimes. Be emotionally mature.
  • 5. Have integrity – be honest and disclose our limitations.
  • 6. Strive for economic justice – be willing to have what is good enough, but not necessarily the finest. Acquire only to give; gather only to share.
  • 7. Accept we can grow – take criticism well.
  • 8. Always be willing to learn from others.
  • 9. Don’t tell people how to live their lives.
  • 10. Don’t ridicule, mock or laugh too easily.
  • 11. Speak gently, concisely and attend to things of substance.
  • 12. Surrender to God – admit His gifts to you; use them for others.

Now we can live in right relationship to the world. Each person has something important to call out of us, to support in us, or to bring to fruit a vision God has for us[5].

Read the “teacher” story (p.53), allowing time for reflection and chat after the reading.

 Explain the exercises for the nest week.

 

Week Five: Mindfulness – Finding Harmony

 Open with prayer, from a volunteer if someone is willing.

Discuss the previous week’s exercises.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage.

Luke 12:15-21

15 And he went on to say to them all, “Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be.”

16 Then Jesus told them this parable: “There was once a rich man who had land which bore good crops.

17 He began to think to himself, “I don’t have a place to keep all my crops. What can I do?

18 This is what I will do,’ he told himself; “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I will store the grain and all my other goods.

19 Then I will say to myself, Lucky man! You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!’ 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?’ ”

21 And Jesus concluded, “This is how it is with those who pile up riches for themselves but are not rich in God’s sight.”

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

Read aloud:

“In Benedictine spirituality, everything is sacred … awareness of the sacred in life holds our world together … spend our time well and be careful our wants are not confused with our needs … Benedictine harmony and balance demand a simpler approach to life and respect for time, personal goods and stewardship.”[6]

Awareness brings balance and harmony. It requires slowing down, listening, prayer and observation of the world to enable us to live a fuller life. Awareness brings freedom from being trapped in a pigeon hole formed of our own limited perception.

Read the “traveler” story (p.68), allowing time for reflection and chat right after the reading.

Explain the exercises for the nest week.

 

Week Six: Work & Play – Finding Balance

 Open with prayer, from a volunteer if someone is willing.

Discuss the previous week’s exercises.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage.

Genesis 1

1 In the beginning, when God created the universe…

3 Then God commanded, “Let there be light”-and light appeared …

6 Then God commanded, “Let there be a dome to divide the water and to keep it in two separate places”-and it was done…

9 Then God commanded, “Let the water below the sky come together in one place, so that the land will appear”-and it was done…

14 Then God commanded, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate day from night and to show the time when days, years, and religious festivals…

20 Then God commanded, “Let the water be filled with many kinds of living beings, and let the air be filled with birds…

24 Then God commanded, “Let the earth produce all kinds of animal life: domestic and wild, large and small”-and it was done…

26 Then God said, “And now we will make human beings…

31 God looked at everything he had made, and he was very pleased…

Genesis 2

1 And so the whole universe was completed.

2 By the seventh day God finished what he had been doing and stopped working.

3 He blessed the seventh day and set it apart as a special day, because by that day he had completed his creation and stopped working

15 Then the Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it.

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

 Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

Read aloud:

                “Work is co-creative … continues what God wants done …is purposeful and perfecting and valuable … is commitment to God’s service … develops the worker … is essential to community development and justice. Laziness and irresponsibility are forms of injustice … worker needs to do justice to the community, and the community to the worker.” [7]

                “Leisure is not selfish or lazy … work doesn’t exist in a vacuum … Sabbath equalizes the rich and the poor for one day … leisure is play and rest … rest is renewal and contemplation.” [8]

                St. Benedict saw work as an effort to find purpose in life, and leisure an effort to find meaning. Both should be done well and with justice and fairness.

Read the “holy monastic” story (p.82) and “Abba Anthony” story (p.97), allowing time for reflection and chat right after the reading.

 Explain the exercises for the nest week.

 

Week Seven: Hospitality – Pouring Ourselves Out

 Open with prayer, from a volunteer if someone is willing.

 Discuss the previous week’s exercises.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage.

Romans 12

9 Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good.

10 Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another.

11 Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion.

12 Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.

13 Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers.

14 Ask God to bless those who persecute you-yes, ask him to bless, not to curse.

15 Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16 Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise.

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

Read aloud:

“Benedictine spirituality says that to become whole ourselves we must learn to let the other in, if for no other reason than to stretch our own vision, to take responsibility for the world by giving to it out of our own abundance, to make the world safe by guarding its people ourselves.” [9]

 Read the “Abba Arsenius” story (p.110) and “fig” story (p.123), allowing time for reflection and chat right after the reading.

 Explain the exercises for the nest week.

 

Week Eight: Obedience – Freedom to be Responsible

 Open with prayer, from a volunteer if someone is willing.

Discuss the previous week’s exercises.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage.

Ephesians 6

1 Children, it is your Christian duty to obey your parents, for this is the right thing to do.

2 “Respect your father and mother” is the first commandment that has a promise added: 3 “so that all may go well with you, and you may live a long time in the land.”

4 Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction. 5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling; and do it with a sincere heart, as though you were serving Christ.

6 Do this not only when they are watching you, because you want to gain their approval; but with all your heart do what God wants, as slaves of Christ.

7 Do your work as slaves cheerfully, as though you served the Lord, and not merely human beings.

8 Remember that the Lord will reward each of us, whether slave or free, for the good work we do.

9 Masters, behave in the same way toward your slaves and stop using threats. Remember that you and your slaves belong to the same Master in heaven, who judges everyone by the same standard.

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

 Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

Read aloud:

“Benedictine communities cannot be pictured correctly by either the pyramid (hierarchical) or the circle (egalitarian), but by the wheel with a hub and spokes. Benedictine authority (the hub) is designed to call us to our best selves by calling us, not to a system, but to the gospel. All members relate to the center and to each other along the spokes.” [10]

                Each is to listen with his or her heart and labor to do what is required of them for the benefit of the community. The leader is to serve the benefit of all members, not just his or her own. “Responsibility is obedience in the best sense of the word.” [11] Obedience is leading or following for the profit of the whole, being ultimately responsible to God, full of humility and intent on growth.  It frees us from the chains of our own attitudes and baggage.

 Explain the exercises for the nest week.

 

Week Nine: Stability – Totally in God & for Others

Open with prayer, from a volunteer if someone is willing.

Discuss the previous week’s exercises.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage.

Colossians 1

22 But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence.

23 You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and must not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel. It is of this gospel that I, Paul, became a servant-this gospel which has been preached to everybody in the world.

24 And now I am happy about my sufferings for you, for by means of my physical sufferings I am helping to complete what still remains of Christ’s sufferings on behalf of his body, the church.

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission. 

Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

Read aloud:

“Benedictine stability deals directly with three things: centeredness, commitment and relationships. It is persistence and perseverance in the face of obstacles and difficulties. [It] enables us to live totally in God and for others … counterweights to pathological egotism in this self-centered world where whole nations starve to death on our kitchen TV sets while we eat dinner without so much as raising an eyebrow.” [12]

In essence, stability comes from applying everything we’ve discussed in service to God and the world. It is a consistent, loving response to the circumstances we find ourselves, and those around us, in.

 Read the “Abba Poeman” story (p.149), allowing time for reflection and chat right after the reading.

 Explain the exercises for the nest week.

 

 Week Ten: Peace – Finding Justice

Open with prayer, from a volunteer if someone is willing.

Discuss the previous week’s exercises.

Leader: (To group) Close your eyes, and relax yourself. Listen as I read this passage.

Colossians 1

1 Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so we boast of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory!

3 We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance,

4 endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope. 5 This hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us. 6 For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time that God chose.

7 It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person.

8 But God has shown us how much he loves us-it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!

Scripture taken from the Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission. 

Leader: What words or phrases stood out or spoke to you? Just call them out slowly and we’ll ask for explanation if needed.

 Read aloud:

“Benedictine spirituality is consciously designed to disarm the heart … be at peace with what has been given, at peace with what is asked, at peace with those who guide, at peace with each other, and at peace with ourselves.”

“Let those who need more, ask, and those who don’t be grateful. Let them honor the elder and love the younger. If hard or difficult things are commanded let them, if the situation cannot be changed, do what must be done. Let them not give way to anger or nurse grudges or even think of being deceitful or fail to be kind, or swear peace but think war in their hearts.” [13]

“Peace comes from not needing to control everything, and not needing to to have everything and not needing to surpass everyone and not needing to know everything and not needing to have everyone else be like me.” [14] The peace you see in the life of Christ clamors for justice so that others, like us, may take their own right places in the universe.” [15]

Read the “Abba Isaiah” story (p.162) and the “army” story (p.184), allowing time for reflection and chat right after the reading.

 Think about continuing on as a Benedictine monastery (small group) HELPING EACH OTHER CONTINUE TO FIND GOD, STABILITY AND PEACE IN AN EVER-CHANGING WORLD.  YOU KNOW – THERE AREN’T TOO MANY BETTER LIFESTYLES YOU COULD CHOOSE.

 

Week Eleven: Living St. Benedict’s Vision

 Give your thoughts on Chapter 15, and the series in general. Leave lots of room for a general discussion of the study and peoples’ experiences.

Discuss the possibility of continuing as a group (monastery) for some time.         

 

 


[1] Joan Chittister, OSB, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily – Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1990. p. 3

 

[2] Chittister, ch. 3

[3] Chittister, pp. 41-42

[4] Chittister  pp. 58-65

[5] Chittister p.65

[6] Chittister, ch.

[7] Chittister, ch.7

[8] Chittister, ch.8

[9] Chiitister, p.125

[10] Chittister, p.135

[11] Chittister, p.138

[12] Chittister, ch.12

[13] Chittister, p.185

[14] Chittister, p.186

[15] Chittister, p.193


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... or, preaching from both ends

WELL, HELLO! YOU’RE HERE.

That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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