We see in this chapter that Benedict is not authoritarian. He does not simply give an order and expect people to follow. He has listened to his fellow monastics and accepted the reality of their position regarding wine. After dialogue, he accommodates within the bounds of reason and moderation while stating his preference: “wine is not a suitable drink for monks”. His fellow monastics cannot be convinced, even when Benedict brings to bear the witness of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Abba Poemen, for example, is quoted in the Lives of the Fathers as stating simply that “wine is not for monks.”
The case for over indulgence regarding food is continued here. How can the monastic, or anyone who wants the Reality of the life of God to permeate their life, facilitate this while their attention is so caught up in excess and the effects that this excess would have on them?
Benedict is mindful of this and in response calls on all monastics to grow in their own unique God-given giftedness. For some the self control to abstain from wine is simply not with them. For others to abstain is just one aspect of their growth into “perfection” or fulness of life. Everyone, regardless of what has been given them, have their own journey of integration to negotiate. Abstinence from wine is a part of the journey for some. With moderation, wine need not be an obstacle for others.
The compassionate Benedict continually makes room for our ‘weaker’ needs. In our weaknesses are the seeds of a humble acceptance of our limitations. A community of the Rule is a safe place for us to grow in this acceptance and humility. This safe place is also the place where openness to grace is lived and encouraged. When it comes to preserving love in community (living into grace) the Rule urges us not to compromise.
This chapter also sees the Rule continue its stance against grumbling. Benedict, in the interest of community harmony, urges community members not to grumble if there is no wine available. The temptation to grumble, and grumbling itself, can reveal what we are attached to. Grumbling can be the product of an inner reactivity around the people, events, and things of attachment. It seems likely that wine (more so than food) was something that the monastics of Benedict’s time had an inner reactivity to when it was absent.
Recently, at Meditatio House, we ran out of coffee. Coffee at the house is greatly valued. We quickly bought some more from a local corner store. Unfortunately the coffee tasted like “plastic hazelnuts in mud”. Grumbling began to stir. The coffee was thrown out and new, better coffee, was bought. Our attachment to coffee was exposed. Not only could we not go without, the coffee had to be good enough.
Reactivity and grumbling can point us towards what is getting in the way of freedom in life and God. These things can often be ‘small’, everyday things. Sometimes they are more than this. Reactivity around attachments gets in the way of an experience of the inner liberty that is dependency on God. The experience of life is one of freedom when we are accepting and living out of this one and only necessary dependency. We are dependent on divine Being for our being. Often our attention is on our attachments rather than focused on the extravagant, free gift of God’s life within us.
What small things in the everyday, if they were gone tomorrow, would cause a reaction in us that would be out of proportion to their absence? Coffee? The morning paper? An evening whiskey? Some routine we did not before realise we had quite an attachment to? In this chapter the Rule asks us: were these little things, because of our attachment to them, coming between us and a deepening experience of our dependency on God? Can we at least moderate these things?
The practice of meditation helps us with this reactive, grumbling dynamic. It is the ego that attaches as it attempts to shore up its position as the centre of attention. The practice of attention on the mantra, gently and over time, subverts ego attachment and heals reactivity. Attention can become integrated in being. As this integration grows we discover ourselves more observing reactivity rather than being caught in it. This takes time. As time passes our attachments and weaknesses can become those things through which God unites the whole of us to God. The only authority is Love.