R.M. Benson – I Kings 19:9-12; Psalm 27:5-11; I John 4:7-12; John 15:9-17
Today we remember the founder of our community, Fr. Benson, who died on this day in 1915. We have received a great deal from him, and his example and teaching continue to inspire our life and mission today.
Fr. Benson was a man who made a strong impression on those he met. One of his contemporaries described him as “shabby, untidy, ill-kempt, and quite eccentric,” but at the same time claimed that there was “a divine tenderness (that) shone through all that was most uncouth” (p.19). It seemed to those who knew him that his gaze was always fixed on things above, which were just as real to him – and far more valuable – than things below. He lived in the presence of God. “He conveyed a sense of the immediacy and nearness of God,” says Donald Allchin. “There was something in him and around him which spoke of eternal and heavenly realities” (A.M. Allchin, in Benson of Cowley, p. 19).
By his words and example, he reminds us our vocation is, first and foremost, to seek God. “We come apart from the world to worship God,” he tells us. “We are called out of the world…in order that we may see God. God has appeared to us, and God wants us to come apart from the world in order that we may see Him. He desires to show Himself to us. He desires to make us experience the delight of His fellowship. He calls us apart for this express purpose…” “Whenever we come…to our chapel let us think that we are coming…in obedience to that command. Let us expect to have the revelation of God. Let us remember that we are not coming…merely because we like to come, but because the voice has bidden us to come.” (p.21).
This was the call – the invitation of God to come apart to seek and worship him – that was at the center of Fr. Benson’s life, and that is at the center of our vocation. Every aspect of our community’s life, every detail of our Rule and observance must be seen in relation to this one end. Our daily worship, our times of meditation, our regular gatherings, our daily tasks, our interaction with others, our ministry to those who come to us and to those to whom we are sent – all of it must be seen in relation to this one end. The one goal of our life in community is to enter more deeply into the divine life, to grow in union with God. Our purpose is “to draw near, to see, to love, to hear the one who calls (us) out of this world into himself” (Allchin, p.21).
And yet it’s not always easy to keep our lives oriented towards God when we are much distracted with the things of this world, including capital campaigns, building repairs, demanding ministries, and life together. Today gives us a chance to remind ourselves of our calling, and to set ourselves to seek first the kingdom of God. Nothing is more important or more valuable than this. It is only when we maintain this vision and continually deepen our desire for it that our vocation has force and meaning. It is for us the “one thing necessary.”
“One thing have I asked of the Lord,” the psalmist says, “One thing will I seek. That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Ps. 27:5-6, BCP p.617). It would be hard to find a clearer description of the life we have chosen to live here in this Society, a life which Fr. Benson has so beautifully modeled for us.
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