Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hallowed or Haunted?

I have long been intrigued with the relationhip of the Raven to St. Benedict. To many, the raven is ominous and a sign of the mysterious and supernatural (Edgar Allan Poe's haunting and chilling poem "The Raven"), and some may even go as far as to consider the raven a sign of evil....."Nevermore" !

There is a reference to a story in the second book of the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great (Dialogues II, viii.d3) As the story goes, St. Benedict was saved from eating a poisoned loaf of bread by a raven. The raven snatched the bread and hid it in the woods. Of course, it is much more complicated and dramatic than that - as chronicled, but I find it interesting that the symbol of the raven has persisted as a sign of wisdom and goodness, associated with St. Benedict and the Benedictine tradition. If you look closely at the St. Benedict medal you will see a raven sitting on his shoulder. The art of the St. John's Bible, a significant hand-written bible project commissioned by the monks at St. John's in Collegeville, MN features a raven in at least one of the illuminations - "Creation" from the book of Genesis.

My own exposure to the Benedictine tradition has been significant. I lived in central North Dakota for 30 years in close proximity to the Annunciation Monastery in Bismarck. The amazing Benedictine nuns from the Monastery sponsor the University of Mary where I received my master's, and St. Alexius Medical Center - where my sons were born. The strong Benedictine traditions in that small North Dakota city carried over to the parochial schools - which the kids attended (k - 12). They both decided to attend St. John's University in Collegeville, MN - sponsored by Benedictine monks. Now, in my second career in Minnesota - I am working for Benedictine Health Center of Minneapolis, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Scholastica in Duluth (Benedictines!). Did you know that St. Scholasitca and St. Benedict were siblings?

The Rule of St. Benedict, which provides guidance and direction for the monastics and all institutions they support, is a good read. The Rule has been used for fifteen centuries, and St. Benedict is sometimes regarded as the founder of Western monasticism.

"Let everyone that comes be received as Christ" is one of the most familiar phrases of the Rule, and is especially applicable in my current work. This emphasizes the importance of hospitality in the tradition. Hospitality for Benedict meant that everyone who comes — the poor, the traveler, the curious, those not of our religion or social standing or education — should be received with genuine acceptance. Other important elements of the rule are life in community, the balance of prayer and work, stewardship, and justice.

I believe that Benedictine values are as necessary today as they were in the sixth century. Benedict's Rule remains a powerful guide, and provides a way of viewing life that finds meaning in the ordinary.

So, for me the Raven is hallowed - associated with the holy and divine. My office is filled with raven art - prints, pottery and poetry. I used them as a continual reminder of the Rule - and all that it contains for us.

Alison Wallace is the artist who created the linocut entitled ‘St Benedict’s Raven’, which I found while doing an image and icon search for St. Benedict.

And let me ask this question -
"Does wisdom perhaps appear on earth as a Raven?"


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