Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: Katie Gordon on the Rule of Benedict and racial injustice

What does it mean to be anti-racist, and how can we prevent the unjust killing of black people in the United States? This is the question on many people’s minds since May 25 when we were witness to the brutal dehumanization and murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. And this isn’t just a political question; it’s also a spiritual one.

In the midst of this national (re)awakening to the realities of racism and white supremacy, I am living in a small Benedictine community, and like many others across the country, we are asking: what can we uniquely do or say in these times? Seeking wisdom, I turned to the Rule of Benedict. Here are three ideas inspired by the Rule that have spoken to me in this moment.

  1. “It is high time for us to arise from sleep. … If you hear God’s voice today, do not harden your hearts.” Rule of Benedict, Prologue

            Language of “awakening” in our society has both a religious meaning, but also a political one. Benedict is talking about waking up to our spiritual realities, and to let 
            these awakenings invite us into breaking our hearts open to the world. As we hear the cries of the oppressed and from those in the streets, let it wake us up to a new
            political consciousness, let it soften our hearts, and let us hear God’s voice through this moment.

  1.  “…whether slave or free, we are all one in Christ (Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8) and share equally in the service of  the one God, for God shows no partiality among persons (Rom 2:11).” Rule of Benedict, Chapter 2 Verse 20

We are all one in Christ. There are no ranks or partiality in God’s eyes among God’s people. Let us ensure in our earthly communities, that we may live into this call of God to create systems and structures that care for the absolute equality of all in creation.

  1. Chapter 7 is about the 12 steps of humility. As many monks have reminded us since then, it takes a lifetime to practice humility and form a monastic heart. As one story goes: “’What do you do in the monastery?’” a guest asked an old monk. And the elder replied, “We fall down and we get up.  We fall down and we get up….” The wise monk Thomas Merton wrote of the monastic life, “There are only three stages to this work: to be a beginner, to be more of a beginner, and to be only a beginner.”  

Through the lens of humility, the Rule teaches us that it is not only okay but actually necessary to take the beginner’s stance. Many of us, particularly those of us who are white, must always be willing to begin again; to fall down and get up. That is the journey of unlearning racism and learning how to be anti-racist. It is a long but liberating path to walk.

Katie Gordon is a staff member of Monasteries of the Heart and a national organizer with Nuns & Nones. Her work is focused on building bridges between traditions and generations, in an effort to translate ancient wisdom for contemporary seekers to respond to the greatest challenges of our own time. Katie is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, with a Master of Theological Studies in Religion, Politics, and Ethics. She recently facilitated the MOH eCourse, "What does it mean to be a Monastery of the Heart in our Time?


  • How do these lessons speak to you in this moment? How might you integrate them into your lives?
  • What other texts are you turning to in order to engage in the work of unlearning racism and learning how to be antiracist?

Please share your reflections with us here.

Additional resources

  • Ibram X. Kendi writes that it is not enough for us to be “not racist,” but we must actively be “anti-racist.” In a society that is built upon a history and legacy of racism, it is the water we all swim in. Therefore, to commit to being anti-racist is to actively confront racism in the policies and practices in our individual and collective lives. Read more about this in his book, How To Be An Antiracist. Click here to order the book and download the discussion guide.
  • Resmaa Menakem is a therapist and trauma specialist who wrote the book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. He argues that we must not only unlearn racism in our minds, but also in our bodies. You can order his book here, listen to his On Being interview with Krista Tippett here, or listen to a body practice on race and healing here.

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