A Good Life: Benedict's Guide to Everyday Joy, by Robert Benson, 2004, Paraclete Press.
Books often surprise, and in this reviewer's experience, the surprise is often in inverse proportion to a book's size. Robert Benson - well-known retreat leader and author - has given us just such a surprise in his slender little book, A Good Life: Benedict's Guide to Everyday Joy.
In the Prologue to the Rule, St. Benedict poses a crucial question from the Psalms: Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days? (the "good life" of Benson's title). Benson uses Benedict's compelling question to contrast the Rule's careful balance of prayer, work, rest and community with the modern world's relentless insistence on work and consumerism as the sole measures of meaning.
Benson's underlying question is, like Benedict's, how do we balance the demands of the world with our longing for God? His answer, again like Benedict's, is to create a "rule" that balances our lives so that we can be people of prayer.
The author makes the easily overlooked point that the things we actually do (as opposed to what we say or think we do) are our de facto rule, whether we acknowledge it or not: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Mt. 6:21). And if an honest look at our frantic and distracted lives shows them to be out of kilter, what do we do?
Benson's answer is disarmingly simple: fix it! The work of restoring balance is not something we can leave for others. As the author says, "We are responsible for leading our own lives.... We are to make the rule that shapes (it)."
He invites us to search the Rule to find ways that will help us create the kind of life that moves us from "working without stopping to praying without ceasing." As oblates of Saint Meinrad, we're off to a good start if we faithfully follow the Oblate's Personal Rule of Life, but Benson's invigorating little book reminds us that periodic re-examination of how well we're doing - and how we might do better - is an ongoing obligation.
John Swales III, oblate