Anyone who has just skimmed Benedictine Spirituality knows that listening is a very important tenet in living Benedictine Spirituality. The very fist word of the Rule of Benedict is the word: Listen. But throughout the whole of the Rule, there is an emphasis on listening and listening to each other. For example, when the monks are summoned for counsel, the Rule explicitly says that even the youngest members must be given a chance to speak, for they might have thoughts and suggestions on a matter that is even more worthwhile than the thoughts and suggestions of “seasoned” monks.
This past summer provided me with a great example of listening. In relating this experience, perhaps it could be of value to others as well.
In the summer of 2002, a young man from Lithuania spent some time with us here at Mount Michael, discerning a vocation. Although he discovered his calling was not a monastic one, he did value his experience, and would probably repeat it. He also contributed to us here at Mount Michael. His name is Tomas Butvilas.
Tomas often helped me in the garden. He is quite knowledgeable about growing vegetables and fruit trees, but particularly knowledgeable in regard to tomatoes. Actually one summer of his life, during his college days, Tomas worked in a huge green house growing tomatoes in Norway—hydroponic tomatoes.
When Tomas first saw my tomato plants and how I cared for them, he laughed! He told me I was growing bushes, not tomato vines. Then he proceeded to tell me I needed to be pruning my plants, taking off the extra branches and leaves.
I had heard of such a method before, particularly pruning all the sucker branches, but Tomas wanted me to strip the plant almost totally. I really did NOT want to listen to him, let alone DO what he was telling me to do.
As the years have passed since Tomas has been here, I have thought about this way of growing tomatoes. I kept hearing Tomas’ words about my plants being bushes and not vines. I kept thinking that there must be something to this method, especially if there was a way to control the amount of leaves on a plant. It made sense that the plant would send its energy to the fruit and not to all that foliage that “looks” so nice. So I decided to do more research and went to the internet to find more. And did I ever find more.
I clicked on to a site called Joyful Tomatoes. Eventually, I found a book by Jacper Postawski. This book told me all I needed to know about this method. So I went about grooming my tomato plants. At one point my youngest brother, Alan, who helps me at times in the garden chided me for spending too much time working on the tomato plants.
And yes the rest is history, I did groom my tomatoes this past summer. I did have a great crop. We ate tomatoes all summer long. I gave lots of tomatoes to people. We sold a lot of tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market. We have lots in the freezer and in jars—juice, salsa, whole tomatoes, etc…
So what is the point? The point is that it is good to listen to others, even if you think their ideas or suggestions are pretty wacky and crazy. Truly, Benedictines, particularly need to be attuned to listening to one another and perhaps even applying what is heard. The Abbot needs to listen to his monks. The monks need to listen to their abbot. And if we truly follow Benedictine Spirituality then all those connected to a Benedictine Community should be listening to one another. Great possibilities and accomplishments are possible if we listen to one another and are willing to follow advice.