Monday, November 12, 2007

Reading for March 13, July 13, November 12

March 13, July 13, November 12

Chapter 35: On the Weekly Servers in the Kitchen

Let the brethren serve one another,
and let no one be excused from the kitchen service
except by reason of sickness
or occupation in some important work.
For this service brings increase of reward and of charity.
But let helpers be provided for the weak ones,
that they may not be distressed by this work;
and indeed let everyone have help,
as required by the size of the community
or the circumstances of the locality.
If the community is a large one,
the cellarer shall be excused from the kitchen service;
and so also those whose occupations are of greater utility,
as we said above.
Let the rest serve one another in charity.

The one who is ending his week of service
shall do the cleaning on Saturday.
He shall wash the towels
with which the brethren wipe their hands and feet;
and this server who is ending his week,
aided by the one who is about to begin,
shall wash the feet of all the brethren.
He shall return the utensils of his office to the cellarer
clean and in good condition,
and the cellarer in turn shall consign them to the incoming server,
in order that he may know
what he gives out and what he receives back.

Some Thoughts:

Everyone has to wash the dishes! Everyone has to be involved in the million and a half things that go on in a kitchen on order to serve a meal to others. In other words, here is another way in which Benedict states that all are equal in the community. Although I admit, I wonder what work would be important enough to excuse one from KP? My first thought is some work of hospitality, but what do I know.

This is another one of those passages which speak to me of the balance and moderation that the Saint is known for. It also speaks to me of the care he takes for others. I love that he specifies Saturday. I lived with a group of women back in the day and we each had our assigned chores for the week. I remember we had arguments over when the chores would get done. For instance, if I were assigned to clean the bathroom, for instance, I would wait till the end of my assigned week to scrub it down because the person who had scrubbed it down the previous week had waited till the end of her assigned week. But the woman who followed me in rotation wanted to get her share of cleaning done at the beginning of the week. And there would be arguments. How much better if we had had the foresight to do as Benedict did and assign a day.

There is also a circular pattern here: the one who serves in turn becomes one who is served. This is a principle which i think need re-introduction or a new emphasis or something. People in my parish for instance, excuse themselves from certain work because "it's not my thing". Not because they lack skills or time, but because they don't care to and see no benefit to themselves. In contrast to this, we have the RB which teaches us to serve others. Which also gives us the opportunity to experience for ourselves the mystery and paradox learned by so many who came to give and serve and went away saying "They gave me so much more than I ever gave them."

Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

Benedict leaves very little to the imagination or fancy of the spiritually pretentious who know everything there is to know about spiritual theory and think that is enough. Benedict says that the spiritual life is not simply what we think about; it is what we do because of what we think. It is possible, in fact, to spend our whole lives thinking about the spiritual life and never develop one. We can study church history forever and never become holier for the doing. There are theology courses all over the world that have nothing whatsoever to do with the spiritual life. In the same way, we may think we are a community or assume we are a family but if we do not serve one another we are, at best, a collection of people who live alone together.

So, Benedict chooses the family meal to demonstrate that point of life where the Eucharist becomes alive for us outside of chapel. It is in kitchen service that we prepare good things for the ones we love, and sustain them and clean up after them. It was woman's work and Roman men were told to do it so that they, too, with their own hands and over their own hot fires could know what it takes to spend their own lives to give life to the other.

Community love and accountability are focused, demonstrated and modeled at the community meal. In every other thing we do, more private in scope, more personal in process, our private agendas so easily nibble away at the transcendent purpose of the work that there is often little left of the philosophical meaning of the task except our own translation of it. In the Middle Ages, the tale goes, a traveler asked three hard-at-work stone masons what they were doing. The first said, "I am sanding down this block of marble." The second said, "I am preparing a foundation." The third said, "I am building a Cathedral." Remembering the greater cause of why we are doing what we do is one of life's more demanding difficulties. But that's not the case in a kitchen, or in a dining room that is shaped around the icon of the Last Supper where the One who is first washes the feet of the ones who are to follow. "Do you know what I have just done," the Scripture reads. "As I have done, so you must do."

In Benedict's dining room, where everyone serves and everyone washes feet and everyone returns the utensils clean and intact for the next person's use, love and accountability become the fulcrum of community life.

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