Today in our Episcopal calendar we remember James Otis Sargent Huntington, a priest and monk who died in 1935. He is best known for founding the Order of the Holy Cross, a Benedictine order for men. Huntington began the orders’ ministry in some of the poorest areas of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. After a stint in rural Maryland, Holy Cross found its current home in 1902 in West Park, NY, near Poughkeepsie. The monastery was the first building built for an Anglican monastic order since King Henry VIII! Huntington went on to help found various other institutions, including Kent School in Kent, CT, where Mother Anna was chaplain.
In addition to remembering James Huntington today, we are also about to enter the season of Advent this coming Sunday. We have a chance over the next four weeks to anticipate and prepare for the coming of Christ, for the return of the Light into the darkest hours of our world. Huntington’s embrace of Benedictine monasticism might be an invitation for us to bring some of its principles into this season.
At a time of year when our lives often get busier, the Benedictine Rule of Life emphasizes moderation. There is time set aside each day for work, yes, but also sleep, spiritual reading, and, of course, prayer. We are not monks in a monastery, of course, but setting a bit of time aside for study of scripture, reading an Advent devotional, or quiet prayer, can help us take advantage of this season of mindful waiting.
Another hallmark of the Benedictines is the practice of hospitality. We might think this year about how we are preparing to be welcoming to Christ, and how we might practice that welcome by offering hospitality to others around us – especially those who may be in the greatest need.
Finally, as with other monastic communities, the Benedictines practice simplicity of life. A useful way of preparing for new birth, both in the world and in within our deepest selves, is letting go of those things that no longer serve us. We might do some physical decluttering, but perhaps we are also drawn to divesting ourselves of the old ideas, grudges, hurts, and fears that we’ve been carrying around and weighing us down. Why not come to Christmas a little lighter?
Any or all of these practices can help us to find and offer many gifts this Advent. I pray that it is indeed a blessed and peaceful season for us all!