The word "moderation" does not appear among the chapter titles of Saint Benedict's Rule. I believe the reason for its absence is because almost every chapter is imbued with it. When I tell congregations about living under the Rule, I always emphasize moderation. To drive the point home I tell my listeners that Benedictines are even moderate with moderation. This quotation from Chapter thirty nine speaks about eating in moderation. Other chapters deal with topics such as moderation in consuming wine, or moderation in the amount of clothing given to each monk. The idea of moderation is driven home by the Prologue's notation that the Rule is not intended to introduce anything harsh or burdensome. Instead, Benedict intends to simply say, "enough is really enough."
Apparently I need to be frequently reminded of the concept of moderation. By nature I am a night owl. When it comes to bedtime, there are occasions when I simply don't want to put down the book I'm reading. Or something I'm writing may draw me in and when I look at the clock, I realize I should have been in bed hours ago. Of course I pay for this indulgence by walking around in a sleep deprived daze for the next day, or sometimes for several days.
One of my first reminders of the need for moderation came long before I became an Oblate. I was attending a workshop called, "Walking a Sacred Path." Basically it was a short introduction to walking labyrinths. For those who have never walked a labyrinth, it is a winding path which weaves back and forth until it comes to the center. It isn't a maze, there is only one way in and the same way, in reverse, to go out. The use of labyrinths predates Christianity. A friend, who is a Pastoral Psychotherapist, tells me they are a Jungian archetype; something impressed on human beings in he distant past; something long buried in our racial memories.
Christianity quickly adopted labyrinths as a symbol of pilgrimage. If one could not pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or Rome, or to another distant holy place, one could instead travel to the nearest place with a large cathedral. There one's pilgrimage was completed by traveling through the labyrinth on one's knees until one reached the center. For Christians, depending on their own theology, the center represents God, Christ, or Mary.
There is one mysterious thing about walking a labyrinth. Thoughts that occur to you, or things that happen to you, during your walk quite frequently turn out to be symbols of,something that is happening in your own life. At the time of my first labyrinth walk, I was in the process of saying goodbye to a congregation where I had served for two years as a seminary intern. Needless to say, I had a hard time leaving some people I had come to deeply love. As a result I felt very far away from God. A labyrinth's path often seems to be nearing the center, but it quickly veers away. But then suddenly, when one is at the farthest point from the center, the path suddenly opens and you step into the center. This reminded me that even during this time when I felt far away from God's presence, God was very, very near.
My reminder about moderation came later in the day. The workshop began early on a Friday morning and continued on Saturday. All the labyrinths were open late so one was able to walk into the evening. Having found something I loved to do, naturally I walked the paths as much as I could for the entire two days. But as I walked late into the second evening something strange happened. I was very, very tired, but I was determined to keep walking. But I found I could not find the center! Remember, there is only one path. It is impossible to get lost! But I did get lost anyway. It suddenly occurred to me that lack of sleep, caused by a lack of moderation in doing something I loved, even in pastorally serving a congregation, was part of what was keeping me from the center; keeping me from knowing God was there with me, even when I felt far away from God's presence.
During the artists retreat I attended last week, I was again reminded for the need for moderation. The pottery studio was open for us 24 hours a day. To me, a person who now had access to pottery wheels, a tool I love to use to create things of beauty from clay, for the first time in thirty years, that was a great temptation. But no matter how much I loved using the wheel, and no matter how much I wanted to take advantage of an opportunity I knew might not come again for years, I soon found there was a point when I needed to stop. If I went beyond that point, my efforts became destructive instead of creative. Every piece of clay I put on the wheel would fall apart in minutes. Once again I was reminded I needed to exercise moderation, even creating in a way I deeply loved. Thanks be to God I was reminded of my need to be moderate before I attempted late night trimming on things I had already created.
Moderation in all things, even in moderation. Thank you Father Benedict for your Rule's reminders on moderation. I know I will need reminders again in the future, and I pray the Rule will remind me before God needs to remind me in a more drastic fashion.