Today I received this lovely letter from reader Kamran Hashim, a Muslim, who gives me permission to share it with you:
I went to Manhattan College in the Bronx, NY. It is a Catholic college run by the Christian Brothers of the Order of De LaSalle. All students are required to take three classes on religion during their four years of undergrad studies in order to graduate. It just so happened that my first religion class was also the first class on my first day as a freshman. It was taught by Brother Robert Berger (who is still a good friend two decades later). And he began all his classes (as I came to learn over the years) with a simple prayer – “Let us remember that we are in the presence of God”. When I look back on my awesome college experience, i am struck by how the most important truth I learned during that time was communicated to me in that prayer in the opening moments of my fist class at the school.
The BenOp, for me, is a way for Christians to actualize this truth…this awareness of God’s active presence in our lives, and to make it inform everything they do…how they worship, how they love, how they work, their mercy, kindness, honesty, how they control anger and other temptations, how they are resilient, etc. It is not about retreating to mountaintops but it is about building communities that can enable individuals to mutually encourage and reinforce this God awareness in their lives.
The BenOp puts God at the center of a christian’s universe again. God stops being a means to an end like political victories or commercial success, and instead resumes being the End that Christians should strive for. The BenOp also forces hard choices around how to live in this world. It is not about disengaging from it but it definitely lays down markers for what’s acceptable and what’s not. It moves away from thinking of Christian faith as some kind of a la carte menu (something for everyone here), and instead challenges and asks Christians to commit fully to their faith and its demands no matter how they diverge from social and commercial norms.
I also like how the BenOp essentially gives primacy to the spirit and soul over the intellect. In our culture today, we obscenely fetishize innovation…the ability to use the intellect to solve problems and satisfy needs. We valorize those we think are innovative, disruptive, builders of stuff that is new and different. The BenOp is a recognition that an innovation focused intellect is just an endless spinning down an unending rabbit hole..that the spirit is more important, and it can be nourished, strengthened, and made beautiful by rediscovering and dedicating oneself to the timeless and essential truths that God has provided us with through the Faith He has revealed to His creation.
The Quran tells us that God does not change the condition of a people for the better till they first change themselves. The BenOp is about trying to get Christians to do the latter.
I wish you best of luck and success with the book.
How is it that my Muslim brother Kamran understands The Benedict Option better than some Christian reviewers?
How is it that I suspect I have more in common with him on the subject of holiness and faithful living than with a lot of Americans who call themselves Christian but who seem to be well assimilated to the secular, consumerist order?
Whatever the answers, I’m so grateful to him for this letter, and for the possibilities it signals of religious collaboration across lines of faith.