Ron Moffat: October 2007 Archives

A Beautiful Thing

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“An attractive aspect is that Benedictine spirituality directs itself so distinctly toward what needs to be done here and now, at this moment. It is not directed toward remote and exalted ideals which are only gained by spiritual masters. For her the holy is common; her asceticism is not directed toward elevated experiences, but everyday dedication to the improvement of quality.”

“Every contribution to the cognitive, esthetic, and moral quality of the world is a contribution to the kingdom of God.”

Quotes from The Rule of Benedict for Beginners by Wil Derkse

This is what attracts me so strongly to the Benedictine charism – its something I can do. It’s a way to God that I can live out.

I’ve worked most of my adult life as an accountant. It’s not the kind of career that many folks would think of as leading one to God, what with its strong financial orientation. In fact, there are probably few accountants who would think that way. Yet, being an accountant orients a person to seek order and even beauty. I’ll give you an example.

I remember when I was starting my career in public accounting working with an older gentleman, very experienced but considered by most as, at best, a bit of an eccentric. He had independent means and worked only part time. This was in the day before computers, or even electronic calculators, and everything was done by hand. We used paper spreadsheets, often taping two or more together to get a lot of columns on one page. In order to indicate that required audit steps had been completed, we usually used red, blue or green pencils to make “tick marks”, symbols, on these spreadsheets to indicate what steps had been done.

One day, while working on an audit, I walked by the older fellows desk and saw that he had one of our spreadsheets out and, also, a box full of different colored pencils. He was busy making numerous “tick marks” using nearly every color in the box. The spreadsheet was awash in color. My first thought was that he was wasting time and ruining a work paper so I spoke up, hesitantly. “Horatio!” (Not his real name) “Horatio, what are you doing?” He looked up at me with joy in his eyes, looked back down at his creation and said, “A think of beauty is a joy forever!” I looked, and the spreadsheet was beautiful.

This happened more than 30 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it, in fact, I’ve always considered it a valuable lesson. I realized that, even as an accountant, I could appreciate beauty in my work. I didn’t understand at the time that this was a truly Benedictine way of looking at things, but I’ve always strived to put it into practice. I had no idea at the time of honoring God, but that’s what Horatio was trying to say.

All beauty is from God. Benedict wants us to learn from his Rule to become attentive to it in everyday events, all of them. The first word of the Rule is “Listen”, meaning: pay attention to what is going on around you, listen for God. I think Benedict would say that, many people who become separated from God don’t do so because they outright reject him, they do so simply because they become inattentive. It happens that they may, for some reason, just stop going to Mass every week, they stop praying every day, they just get out of the habit of paying attention to their faith. They stop listening. This is what Benedict warns us about when he writes, “Listen.”

Listen, can you hear His voice?

Stanzas, from Lord Byron

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When a Man Hath No Freedom to Fight for at Home

When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbors;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knocked on his head for his labors.

To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And is always as nobly requited;
Then battle for freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hanged, you’ll get knighted.

A Good Question from the Desert Fathers

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"Pambo said to Antony, ‘What shall I do?’ Antony said, ‘Do not trust in your own righteousness. Do not go on sorrowing over a deed that is past. Keep your tongue and your belly under control.’”

I don’t know who Pambo was, but I envision some poor guy who makes a long, difficult journey out to the desert. He has a problem and can find no solution, but he knows who will be able to help. So he braves the heat, the snakes and the scorpions and sets out to find Antony. “What shall I do?”

Pambo’s question is, at best, ambiguous. It could mean, “Now that I’ve made such a mess of my life, what shall I do?” Perhaps he’s a young man hoping for advice on how to live his life to be happy and find peace and contentment, “What shall I do?” Or, he might be in search of advice on a career or vocation, the best way to earn a living, or perhaps joining Antony in a cave in the desert, “What shall I do?”

Antony doesn’t hesitate with his answer, nor does he seek clarification of the question. The true nature of the question seems almost irrelevant to Antony. His answer is almost as cryptic as Pambo’s question. What Antony does, in truth, is remarkable. He gives Pambo the answer to any possible question he may have. Antony’s answer provides guidance appropriate to solving any messy personal situation, choosing a career, or finding peace and contentment. In fact, his answer above all points the way to a life of peace and contentment.

Antony calls Pambo to a life of humility, built on the foundations of the virtues: faith, hope, charity. He is reminding Pambo of the truth of his situation: he does not have the power to save himself, or even bring himself peace, but must trust in God – have faith. He cannot escape past sinfulness but must conform his life in loving trust that God can, and has, forgiven him and wishes Pambo to enjoy His love forever – have hope. Finally, Antony reminds Pambo to put the good of others before his own, and to love God above any human comfort or satisfaction – have charity.

As with most of the sayings of the Desert Fathers, we find a great deal of wisdom packed into very few words. I think Pambo's trip was worth it.

With How Sad Steps, O Moon

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With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!
What, may it be that even in heav’nly place
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?
Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel’st a lover’s case.
I read it in thy looks, thy languished grace,
To me that feel the like, thy state descries.
Then, ev’n of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?

Sir Phillip Sidney

A Poem by Emily Dickinson

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Autumn

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown,
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown,
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Ron Moffat in October 2007.

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