Searching for Benedict

At the end of Alisdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue” he famously calls for another Benedict.

The book demonstrates the falling apart of the human way of conceptualizing ethics, and while that description is hardly fair to the whole book, the meta-narrative – the overarching story of history – painted by this book includes and focusses on numerous people from Aristotle to Nietzsche, Weber to Aquinas, Jesus to Jane Austen, and so on… It does not however focus on Benedict.

But never the less, it is not a new philosopher that MacIntyre thinks will help us, it is Benedict, someone who rejects the stories told to him by the outlandish way people lived in his time. Our own time has stories told to us about consumerism, athleticism, politics, economics, justice, and so forth that are hard to distinguish from truth or to pick out the truth within. So, Benedict does not even look strange because he creates a counter narrative and counter way of living that fills out the holes in our understanding.

Of course now, I think there are plenty of people seeking out new benedictine ways of living simply, desiring ardently, searching prudently. They are out there building new communities or perhaps recognizing the value of the community they live in already. Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Heartgrove, Chris Haw, Jean Vanier, Elaine Hines, the North Umbria Community and many more. Several of my friends are involved in pursuing intentional community and accountability, but I cannot. Or at least I cannot in the way they do.

Being a pastor, I’m roped into a particular mode of being and following a line of church leadership established at some point in the later half of the 20th century. However, there’s nothing holding me back from recognizing and participating in the community around me, and hopefully, recognizing the holes in myself and in the community and finding ways to fill those holes.

My quest for Benedict of Nursia, or John Wesley, or Ignatius of Loyola, or any of the other contemplatives is not an actual search for them. It is a search for a way to be inspired by the order of life they found. It is a search to look back at the structures of prayer, confession, examination, work, play, humor, relaxation, worship, and most importantly community that set them free in Christ. Perhaps most importantly to me is to learn how to invite people along for the discovery – for the trial and error, for the relationships that form a permanent fixture in our lives and the relationships that are ephemeral.

It’s a dream, but perhaps something will come of taking it slowing and praying through it diligently. Perhaps in the search I will find out if it is possible to be a Pastor and a Neo-Monastic, a 21st century pastor and a benedictine/Wesleyan?


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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