Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reading for March 14, July 14, November 13

March 14, July 14, November 13
Chapter 35: On the Weekly Servers in the Kitchen

An hour before the meal
let the weekly servers each receive a drink and some bread
over and above the appointed allowance,
in order that at the meal time they may serve their brethren
without murmuring and without excessive fatigue.
On solemn days, however, let them wait until after Mass.

Immediately after the Morning Office on Sunday,
the incoming and outgoing servers
shall prostrate themselves before all the brethren in the oratory
and ask their prayers.
Let the server who is ending his week say this verse:
"Blessed are You, O Lord God,
who have helped me and consoled me."
When this has been said three times
and the outgoing server has received his blessing,
then let the incoming server follow and say,
"Incline unto my aid, O God;
O Lord, make haste to help me."
Let this also be repeated three times by all,
and having received his blessing
let him enter his service.

Some Thoughts:

Seems to me Benedict regards kitchen duty as holy work. Maybe this is obvious, but it has taken me a long time to even begin to think of housework as holy because I dislike it so much. Probably because one is never finished with it and it goes on and on. In the benedictin world, this work and the workers are consecrated before and after the time of service.

I also note that Benedict takes care of his servers... making sure they get a snack ahead of time to ward off hunger pangs and to keep them refreshed, preventing that murmuring and fatigue. B. knows full well that if we human beings can find an opportunity to complain, we will take advantage of it.

Sr Joan Chittister's commentary:

Work done in the Benedictine tradition is supposed to be regular, it is supposed to be productive, it is supposed to be worthwhile but it is not supposed to be impossible. Give help where it is needed, the Rule says. Give whatever it takes to make it possible, the Rule says. Give people whatever they need to do it without grumbling. The servers are to serve, not starve. They are to eat before the others so that they don't wind up resenting the fact that others are eating and become bitter or reluctant in their service. It is a salutary and sobering thought in an age that exploits the poor and the illiterate with impunity for the sake of the comfort of the rich, paying workers too little to live on and working them too hard to live, and then calling it "working your way up" or the "plight" of the unskilled laborer.

Benedictine spirituality does not set out to burden some for the sake of the others in the name of community. It sets out to make work possible for all so that the community can thrive in joy. Any group, any family, that makes life wonderful for some of its members at the expense of the others, no matter how good the work or how satisfied the group, is not operating in a Benedictine spirituality. It is, at best, simply dealing in some kind of holy exploitation, but it is exploitation nevertheless.

In "The Sayings of the Jewish Fathers" it is written: "It is wise to work as well as to study the Torah: between the two you will forget to sin." To make sure we do not forget that humble work is as sacred and sanctifying as prayer, Benedict blesses the kitchen servers of the week in the middle of the chapel. With that simple but powerful gesture all of life begins to look different for everyone. Suddenly it is not made up of "higher" and "lower" activities anymore. It is all--manual labor and mystical meditation--one straight beam of light on the road to fullness of humanity. One activity without the other, prayer without the creative and compassionate potential of work or work without the transcending quality of prayer, lists heavily to the empty side of life. The blessing prayer for the weekly servers in the midst of the community not only ordains the monastic to serve the community but it also brings together both dimensions of life, the transcendent and the transforming, in one clear arc: Prayer is not for its own sake and the world of manual work is not a lesser world than chapel.

We are all meant both to pray and work, each of them influencing and fulfilling the other.

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