April 10, August 10, December 10

If there are artisans in the monastery, they are to practice their craft with all humility, but only with the abbot’s permission. If one of them becomes puffed up by their skillfulness in their craft, and feel that they are conferring something on the monastery, they are to be removed from practicing their craft and not allowed to resume it unless, after manifesting humility, they are so ordered by the abbot.

Whenever products of these artisans are sold, those responsible for the sale must not dare to practice any fraud. Let them always remember Ananias and Sapphira, who incurred bodily death (Acts 5:1-11), lest they and all who perpetuate fraud in monastery affairs suffer spiritual death.

The evil of avarice must have no part in establishing prices, which should, therefore, always be a little lower than people outside the monastery are able to set, ‘so that in all things God may be glorified’ (1 Pet 4:11).  

Humility is that firm grounding in the reality of our lives as creature, a grounding we need if we are to truly make Divine Love our home and expression. And in humility all are equal. This equality of personhood challenges the human tendency to value some more than others simply because their skills are more highly valued. Personhood comes before talent. We are fully loved by God, all equally, because we exist. No great artistic skill can change this.  

Anything done or created without the self-forgetfulness that comes with humility can invite too much attention on the artist. Any creative act, at its best, is an unambiguous part of the ongoing act of Creation flowing from the love-life of God.

Any human act, when blooming with this self-forgetfulness, can reveal to us the joy and purpose, the fruitfulness and meaning that happens when love has no agenda except creative expression. The message here is simple: turn from self-consciousness and bear love’s fruit: life fully alive. In this we become conscious participants of life and in life, created co-creators[1] creating in and with God.

In our meditation practice, as we give and re-giving attention to the mantra, that is, as we turn again and again from self-consciousness, creativity is unlocked; our human life is graciously released from the limitations imposed by fear and ignorance on creativity. In this, meditation itself is a creative act.     

A card of thanks to a friend, a small deed done for a stranger, a meal cooked, the bathroom cleaned, a nappy changed, a lover’s caress, a picture painted, a book written, a symphony composed – all these things and much more, indeed every human action, when serving the movement of life, manifests the divine creatively. Life can then be experienced as mysteriously full.

Because the creative act of the artisan can, by its nature, tend towards self-absorption, this can leave creative action vulnerable to being appropriated by the ego. The creative act needs a broader context, something or someone outside the artist for it to serve. For Benedict it first serves God, ‘so that in all things God may be glorified’(1Peter 4:11), that is, seen and revered. Also, this broader context has the creativity of the artisan serving the monastery in the earning of a living. As a part of a Benedictine spirituality, the artisan too is a God seeker; their creativity serves God and is grounded in the realities of life.

The ethos of the monastery is founded on the common life of Acts 4:32-35. Without sufficient commitment to shared living, in any circumstance, our actions can become more and more focused on just ourselves. The gift that is giving and receiving can be easily lost to us. We can find ourselves keeping back from others what we think we need more than them. In holding back, we can defraud life of our deeper selves; we defraud others of the gift of our own being as expressed through the creative process. And we defraud ourselves. This is spiritual death, and the Kingdom of God is poorer for it.

As each of you has received a special grace, so, as good stewards responsible for the varied graces of God, put it at the service of others. If anyone speaks, it should be as the words of God. If anyone serves, it should be as from strength which God supplies, so that in everything God may be glorified, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11, RNJB)

[1] This term was first used by the theologian Philip Hefner.