Giving ourselves away
Chapter 63 in St Benedict’s Rule, on “Community Rank,” stipulates how order is determined in community life. The first sentence—“The monks keep their rank in the monastery according to the date of their entry, the virtue of their lives, and the decision of the abbot”—brings to mind the concept of "negotiateds and givens." There is a fixed point—one’s date of entry into the monastery—but around that absolute point there is scope for movement depending upon interior and exterior forces which are mutable in some way.
What about the negotiateds and givens of our lives in general? Each of us is characterized by a certain set of givens, our date of birth, our ancestry and genetic makeup, maybe even our basic personality structure. These are fixed points not subject to choice or alteration.
But there is scope for movement and negotiables in the monastery, representing interior volitional forces and exterior communal ones. Of these the only one we have free play with is the interior one—the virtue of our lives, the everyday choices we make that reveal our priorities, whether the deepest ones or those of the moment.
This is a great gift, this blank space of a stage in which we are free to act. The question is, what do we do with this space we’re given? Do we look to the fixed points of reference and concede defeat? Do we look to external communal factors and fall into cynical despond about “being done to”? The reality is, this interior space for the exercise of virtue is the very space Jesus was given to operate in and in which he fulfilled all he had come to do. We have no less space than Jesus. How are we choosing to use it?