Friday, September 13, 2013

Chapter 4, Part 9: Tools, continued...

The tools of good works are these...

(69) To honor the aged.
(70) To love the younger.
(71) To pray for one's enemies in the love of Christ.
(72) To make peace with an adversary before the sun sets.


      These are the last five of Benedict’s tools of good works, but they are the most important tools for getting along in community.  Notice that you must pray for your enemies and make peace with them.  Notice also that the younger members of the community must honor the older members.  That should make the seniors feel good, shouldn’t it?  But notice too that the senior members must love the younger ones.  That means more than just looking out for them.  It also means being an example to them.  Because that honor that the young ones show their seniors is rooted in obedience.  They will admire and imitate good behavior, but they will also observe and imitate bad behavior.  So the pressure is on.  You may be young, so maybe you think you’re off the hook; but there’s surely someone younger than you nearby, and that person is watching.  You not only have to be good, you have to look good too.  And that is much more difficult than showing honor.
      This should remind you of Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Remember that he told the Ephesian women to be submissive to their husbands.  Then he told the Ephesian men to love their wives—to love them, he said, as Christ loves the Church.  I enjoy watching the congregation on Sunday when this reading comes up, because everyone gets really uncomfortable when we start talking about “submissive wives.”  And that’s when my mind drifts back to my teenage years, and to my summers with Margaret.
      You see, when I was a teenager, I took up praying mantises as a hobby.  Galveston Island, where I grew up, was particularly good for mantids because the winters were extremely mild, and the bugs were plentiful, so it was rare—but not unheard of—for these insects to grow a full six inches or longer.  I built elaborate wicker cages with trap-doors and detachable rooms to facilitate feeding, and I have to say that there are few memories from that period of my life more vivid than the hours I spent watching Margaret—my largest mantis—devouring her prey.  Mantises are notable for being the most human of the insect world.  They are the only insects, for example, that can rotate their heads right and left.  What’s more, they stand upright when they eat, and Margaret, I’m pleased to say, was capable of eating a cricket with such delicacy, you almost forgot how disgusting the whole thing was.
    Mantises, of course, are also famous for their bizarre, beautiful, and uniquely horrifying mating ritual.  And although I was never that interested in observing this ritual first-hand, I felt obliged to provide her with a companion.  After all, she was so…human.  I was thrilled, therefore, when I managed to trap a male mantis and to introduce him to Margaret.  Males are a good deal rarer and much smaller than females of the species.  None-the-less, Charles and Margaret immediately took to one another, and for sheer passion and mutual affection, even Romeo and Juliet would have been hard pressed to compete.  That is, of course, until Margaret ate Charles.
    And so for me, this became a metaphor for the relationship Saint Paul describes in his letter to the Ephesians:  Margaret’s unhesitating submission, Charles’ complete self-giving.  Submission, after all, does not always entail a weak or obsequious surrender.  And self-giving inevitably involves self-sacrifice.