St Benedict of NursiaSt Benedict of Nursia was no stranger to pestilence or plague, born into an age that lacked vaccines, sanitation or medicines. But as we have discovered – unusual conditions of contagion and virulence can still skew our more advanced world on its axis, tipping us into global havoc.

When Benedict arrived as a student in Rome at the end of the 5th century, he was acutely aware of another kind of sickness in the dominant culture of decadence and debauchery. Finding no help anywhere, with church and state in turmoil, he fled to a remote spot in search of God and took up residence in a cave.

We too find ourselves in a variety of ‘caves’ – faced with the climbing death toll from a new and scarily unfamiliar virus for which there is no cure. Benedict’s situation differs from ours. He fled from spiritual sickness to conditions of severe privation. Many of us flee from an infection that attacks the body – into ‘caves’ served by a host of distractions and home comforts like Netflix, home cinema, online shopping, heating, soft beds and plenty of essential (even luxury) food and drink.

So are there any gems of wisdom from Benedict that can help our predicament? I think there are.

  1. One of the foundation stones of his Rule is ‘Stability’. Benedictine monks and nuns vow to remain all their lives with one community. They give up the temptation to move on in search of an ideal situation. The notion that things would be better somewhere else is usually an illusion. There is no escape from oneself. This means learning the practices of love: acknowledging one’s own offensive behaviour, giving up one’s preferences, forgiving.
  2. Another foundation stone is obedience – but Benedict’s take is the opposite of our understanding. We are to listen with ‘the ears of our heart’ first to God made explicit in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The Abbot is to listen to all – even the youngest and least experienced. This fosters a loving interdependence on each other and God.

Whilst tales of increased domestic violence filter through and we anticipate a rise in mental health issues, many are finding positive outcomes in the lockdown. Children enjoy more time with parents, cupboards and drawers reveal lost treasures: there is less travel, less pollution and less temptation to indulge in retail therapy. To our amazement, when the cultural pressures to mingle, shop, spend, party are removed – it can come as a huge relief.

The environment is also coming out of it well, although the massive hit taken by the economy is not so good.

What will happen when we are set free again? Have we learned valuable lessons about lifestyle, stability, listening to each other and to God? I hope so.

Meanwhile, I will continue to crochet my twelve square afghan project (Sophie’s Dream from Sophie’s Universe). It was intended for my elderly mother, but she’s left us for that fabulously furbished mansion above. I wonder whose name will be on it in her place?