While chapter 40 warns against grumbling (or murmuring), this chapter asks the community leader to ‘regulate and arrange all matters’ (including mealtimes) so that justified (or reasonable) grumbling does not occur. In chapter 40 the grumbling around no wine in the community was viewed as not reasonable by Benedict (even though he compromised). Chapter 41 freely accepts the reality of reasonable grumbling.
And so it is in our lives. Sometimes the grumbling may be showing us what we are unnecessarily attached to, other times the grumbling is about self-love. Some things can be just plain unreasonable. So much of the spiritual life is about maturing in the art of discernment, of sensing where a grumble is coming from. This takes practice. Self-love, allowing God to love us, can shed much light on what motivates us and what we avoid. Our meditation practice is as much about growing in this self-love as is it about growing in love of the other.
The essence of this chapter is contained in the sentence
He [or she, the community leader] must arrange and manage everything in such a way that souls may be saved and that the brothers [and sisters] do what they have to do without having cause to grumble.
The community leader here is asked to obey the community as it reasonably grumbles. Obedience is all about the ability to listen with love and to respond to this listening in creative, loving ways. This is the role of the community leader. Compassionate leadership is paramount here. Without compassion reasonable grumbling may not be noticed or even dismissed.
In this chapter flexibility born of compassion is encouraged. Mealtimes, prayer times, and seasons are all used as practical examples of this compassionate flexibility.
This chapter can prompt another question: what about the unreasonable grumblings of a community member which at that moment, because of that person’s circumstances, are accepted by the community leadership? At one level, this could be seen as favouritism or at least leadership that is inconsistent from person to person. The Rule, however, encourages spiritual leadership that is about loving each person and their unique journey into God. Sometimes grumbling could be the manifestation of someone experiencing their resistances to growing in life and love. Wise leadership would see this and realise that the grumbling could actually be a sign of growth stirring in the person. Treating this type of grumble insensitively may actually help create ego stubbornness around growth.
Benedict is keen for the community leader to preserve (through compassionate and discerning flexibility) what could be called the ‘saving dynamic’ operative in any healthy enough community. Justified grumbling can be an indicator that the dynamic may be somehow under threat.
This is the bottom line for the leader and the community: that souls may be saved. What could ‘be saved’ here mean? Within Christianity there is a kind of yes/no dynamic to salvation. Yes we are saved thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, saved from the fear of death, from living a life build on the illusion of death as separation from God. And no – we are not yet saved in the sense that the word salvation is used to describe the ongoing healing, transformation and integration that Christian discipleship involves. Salvation is both a noun and a verb.
The saving dynamic is something operative in and through community relations of trust, compassion and vulnerability. The dynamic fosters a growing awareness of the presence of God and the ways in which this presence, within the person and community, is working for the ongoing salvation of all. This involves mutual participation. The dynamic is not reliant on one person (the leader) for its existence within the community. All are responsible for the nurturing of this dynamic in and through their relations with each other and their personal response to this dynamic. When this dynamic is active the community itself becomes a kind of ‘sweet spot’ for healing and healthy change both communally and personally. The community leader is the discerner of this presence/dynamic, and is the one to shape present circumstance (while respecting individual freedom) to be sympathetic to, and resonate with, this dynamic.
Grumbling (both reasonable and unreasonable), together with this saving dynamic, can be present wherever community grows. In families, in relationships, in the workplace – wherever people come together and include, in some way, the reality of compassion and love. Leadership in this case is about learning to serve this saving dynamic. It is not about operating out of an egocentric need to control. Leadership informed by the Rule is comfortable enough with a vulnerability that allows the responsibility for a community’s life and growth to be owned by everyone.
This leadership can be seen when a parent lets a child choose their own clothing for the day (no matter how ‘unusual’ the choice may be), when a wife lovingly accepts the mistake that her husband is about to make, or when a manager accepts the ‘less efficient’ way that employees have chosen to do something (in the interests of workplace harmony).