“Listen carefully, my daughter, my son, to my instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice.” —Prologue, The Rule of St. Benedict
Retreat leader and journalist Judith Valente writes of the importance of listening in Benedictine spirituality:
I’ve often marveled, that the first word of The Rule of St. Benedict isn’t pray, worship, or even love. It’s listen. This small, unobtrusive word speaks in a whisper. To anyone who studies Benedictine spirituality, the phrase listen . . . with the ear of the heart becomes so familiar we can easily lose sight of how revolutionary it is. Listening in the Benedictine sense is not a passive mission. Benedict [c. 480–547] tells us we must attend to listening. In some translations of The Rule, we are to actively incline ourselves toward it, and nurture it in our everyday activities. Listening is an act of will. . . .
Listening cracks open the door to another Benedictine concept from which most of us would rather run,—that of obedience. . . . Obedience comes from the Latin, oboedire, to give ear, to harken, to listen. The Benedictine writer Esther de Waal says that obedience moves us from our “contemporary obsession with the self,”  and inclines us toward others. . . . . [St. Benedict] moves beyond the common understanding of the word as solely an authoritarian, top-down dynamic. He stresses instead mutual obedience, a horizontal relationship where careful listening and consideration is due to each member of the community from each member, as brothers and sisters. It is by this way of obedience, he says, that we go to God. 
Author Esther de Waal describes how in Benedictine spirituality there is an inherent connection between listening and responsive action:
To listen closely, with every fibre of our being, at every moment of the day, is one of the most difficult things in the world, and yet it is essential if we mean to find the God whom we are seeking. If we stop listening to what we find hard to take then, as the Abbot of St. Benoît-sur-Loire puts it in a striking phrase, ‘We’re likely to pass God by without even noticing Him.’  And now it is our obedience which proves that we have been paying close attention. . . . So to obey [in the Benedictine tradition] really means to hear and then act upon what we have heard, or, in other words, to see that the listening achieves its aim. We are not being truly attentive unless we are prepared to act on what we hear. If we hear and do nothing more about it, then the sounds have simply fallen on our ears and it is not apparent that we have actually heard them at all. 
 Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1989, 1997), 53.
 Judith Valente, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us about Happiness, Meaning, and Community (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2018), 12, 13, 14.
 Bernard Ducruet, “The Work of Saint Benedict,” Cistercian Studies 15, no. 2 (1980): 157.
 Esther de Waal, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1984, 2001), 43–44.
Explore Further. . .
- Read more about Benedictine spirituality from Cynthia Bourgeault and Joan Chittister.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Claudia Retter, Caroline’s Porch (detail), photograph, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Lynn’s Tomatoes (detail), photograph, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Micah’s Room (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click to view the image.
This week’s images by Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. This year we invited a few photographers, including Claudia, to share their vision with us in an artistic exploration for the Daily Meditations. The inspiration questions we asked each artist to create from were: How do you as an artist connect to and engage with (S)spirit and/or tradition(s)? How can we translate deeper truths through a lens? and How can we show our inherent connectedness (of humans, nature, other creatures, etc.) through imagery?
Image Inspiration: Our eyes are so often drawn to grand majesties – a vivid sunset or an expansive landscape – but the smallest of things has value, a story of its own, a place in the world. —Claudia Retter
Story from Our Community:
I’m part of the Talking Shop, a project set in an empty store in the centre of Cardiff, UK. We welcome people in for a free cup of tea and a chat about culture, society, and democracy. It’s not a Christian initiative, but as I listen to people I’ve never met before talk about what matters to them and the kind of society they want to live in, it feels very Jesus-like. —Claire B.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.