Twenty-nine years ago Sister Joan Chittister published a book based on the Rule of St. Benedict called Wisdom Distilled From the Daily. I pick it up from time to time in the morning because I always find in it some guidance that is helpful for the day ahead. Today is one of those days and what struck me first in the chapter on “Community” was the fact that world situations do not seemed to have changed for the better in the interim between her writing and my reading of it – the same fact that Sister Joan concluded in 1990 with regard to St. Benedict’s writing in the 5th century. It made me ask the question: Will we ever learn?
“Whose feet shall the hermit wash?” Basil, from whom Benedict drew much of his own inspiration, asked centuries ago. The question needs to be asked again in a culture devoted largely to the worship of itself. Unless we learn in our own personal relationships, as the ancient definition of heaven and hell indicates, to live for someone besides ourselves, how shall we as a nation ever learn to hear the cries of the starving in Ethiopia and the illiterate in Africa and the refugees in the Middle East and the war weary in Central America? What will become of a nation in this day and age that has no sense of community? What, indeed, will become of the planet? The warning of the wise is clear:
“In hell,” the Vietnamese write, “the people have chopsticks but they are three feet long so that they cannot reach their mouths. In heaven the chopsticks are the same length, but in heaven the people feed one another.” The message is no less new, no less important today…”(p. 50)
Sister Joan concludes: “Community is our only option.”