By the end of the fifth century, when a middle-class, young Italian named Benedict left his home in Nursia to go to school in Rome, the Empire that had been centered there was in total disarray. The church whose faith had become the official religion of that Empire was in turmoil. It was in every way a time of transition. In short, it was a moment not unlike our own. Everyone knew that a new future was being born, but no one was sure just what it would look like.
In a moment of clarity, Benedict saw that the system of education that had been designed to prepare him for a world that was passing away could only lead to a dead end. While it could teach him what had worked in the past, the system did not have the resources to present a way forward. A different kind of school was needed. Benedict had a hunch that the Desert Mothers and Fathers were creating it. He went to a cave, built himself a prayer cell, and so matriculated in the “university” of the world-to-come.
We started School for Conversion out of a conviction that the challenges we face today demand an alternative form of theological education. With kids in the neighborhood, with folks inside of prisons, and with people in radical faith communities, we’ve been carving out spaces to imagine a new society in the shell of the old. Our experiments are small, but they’ve taught me something important: people are hungry—starving, even—for spaces to imagine the world-to-come. Even if they’ve never heard of him, folks today resonate with Benedict.
JWH has a new paraphrase of the Rule of St. Benedict out, so contemporary Christians can learn more easily from it. Looks pretty interesting.