The work of exposure

By a wonderful serendipity we come now to St Benedict’s chapters on the liturgical life of the monastery just in the week we are celebrating the feast of our patron Julian of Norwich.

Julian says, “Most glad and happy is our Lord about our prayer, and He watches for it, and He wishes to enjoy it, because with His grace it makes us like Himself in character as we are in nature.” (Ch 41) From the last many weeks of climbing the ladder of Jesus’s liberating humility in Chapter 7 of Benedict’s Rule, we can see that this process of becoming conformed to Jesus in character as we are in nature is the entire point of the life of the monastery.

When Jesus says to Julian, “My child, behold and see what delight and bliss I have in your salvation, and for my love enjoy it now with me…for my pleasure is your holiness and your endless joy and bliss with me,” (Ch 24) he is not simply expressing his own joy, but inviting her to take part in it, to take her part in it. Both Jesus and Julian are aware of Julian’s sinfulness, but that is not where Jesus would have her focus the most; she will not become like Jesus in character by dwelling too much on her sin.

There is a strain of Christianity in which hidden beneath much surface talk of blessing and the joy of salvation, is a rip-current of emphasis on our own unworthiness, our own wretched sinfulness. Neither Julian nor Benedict have much time for this, rather placing the emphasis on God’s own beauty and holiness and concentrating our gaze on that. It is a matter of becoming what we pay attention to.

To that end, Benedict gives eleven full chapters of the Rule to the structure of the formal prayer of the monastery. He is definitely of the “continuous drip-feed” school of liturgy, because with Julian he affirms that this worshipful response to God’s prevenient, continuous invitation is what, more than anything else, will conform us most surely to Jesus and help turn us into complete human beings.

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