Do Not Change Places Easily: a reflection on the Life of Saint Benedict, chapter V
The monks of three monasteries that were built on the rocks of a mountain had to go down to fetch water from the lake every day, by a very rough path that put them in real danger. Afflicted, they went to see Benedict and explained to him that the only solution was to move the monasteries. But Benedict did not think that was the only possible solution. He sent them off with good words -just as he advises the cellarer to do (cf RB 31: 13)- and when night came, he climbed up to the mountain accompanied by the boy Placid. There they prayed for a long time. The next day, the monks came back again with their complaint. Benedict told them to go up and dig in the place where he had prayed the night before, which he had marked with three stones. “God is powerful, he told them, to make water sprout even from the top of the mountain, and thus spare you the fatigue of such a long way." When the monks got to the place, the water was already oozing and after not much digging it started to flow constantly and abundantly.
They used to have to do a lot of work to get their water, but now water flows for them generously and delightfully from the top of the mountain. A parallel from the Holy Rule comes to our mind: "Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (RB P: 48- 49) It was not true that monasteries had to be moved! What was needed was prayer, lots of it, and a little digging.
Things happen to Benedict as they happen in Scripture. He is just like Moses when the people murmur against him and he makes water flow from the rock. “God is powerful” says Benedict, as he points us to prayer as a real way out of problems and as he invites us to take the examples from Scriptures seriously in our daily difficulties.
Just as we do with Scriptures, we can rise from the literal meaning towards higher meanings of this account. Why are those monasteries built up on top of the mountain? "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden" (cf. Mt 5:14) What does it mean to strenuously fetch water from the lake? What does water flowing down from above mean? In these two waters -the waters from below and the waters from above- we are offered a school of prayer and conversion. Switching to a less rugged place, to a gentler valley, may not be the way. "God is powerful," says St Benedict and then asks us, just like the Lord asked Martha: "Do you believe this?" (cf Jn 11: 26)
Finally, it should not slip unnoticed to us that Benedict does not work this miracle all by himself. There we have the boy Placid praying alongside his abbot "for the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger " (RB 3: 3). Often, though not always. Not too far ahead in the Life of Benedict, we will meet the boy Placid again when he almost drowns in that same lake precisely when fetching water from it in a careless way.