Thursday, November 22, 2007

Reading for November 2, 2007

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

March 23, July 23, November 22
Chapter 43: On Those Who Come Late to the Work of God or to Table

Anyone who does not come to table before the verse,
so that all together may say the verse and the oration
and all sit down to table at the same time --
anyone who
through his own carelessness or bad habit
does not come on time
shall be corrected for this up to the second time.
If then he does not amend,
he shall not be allowed to share in the common table,
but shall be separated from the company of all
and made to eat alone,
and his portion of wine shall be taken away from him,
until he has made satisfaction and has amended.
And let him suffer a like penalty who is not present
at the verse said after the meal.

And let no one presume
to take any food or drink
before or after the appointed time.
But if anyone is offered something by the superior
and refuses to take it,
then when the time comes
that he desires what he formerly refused
or something else,
let him receive nothing whatever
until he has made proper satisfaction.

Some Thoughts

As I read this, I am again surprised as I am every time I read it, that the usual exceptions are omitted. The one's about guests or whatever. Perhaps at this point, Benedict assumes it is a given that there may be exceptions. What do you think?

I daresay in Benedict's mind as he wrote this, there were concerns for orderliness, respect to the servers, disruption of the reading that accompanies the meals. But I wonder if there is something else at work and that is the sacredness of the table.

By Benedict's day, the Eucharist was a formal liturgy almost identical to what is used today among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists, at least. This liturgy dates back to at least 300 CE. In the earliest years, though, Jesus words to break bread, drink of the cup, remember, were incorporated into the daily meals, making them sacred acts. Of course, observant Jews of Jesus day and earlier, also considered meals sacred.

I dunno where all of our listmembers live, but sacredness of mealtime is something that seems largely lost to us in the USA. I've know several families who get all their meals from fast food places. I know many people, women and men, who are proud to announce they can't or will not cook. Parents of my acquaintance have bemoaned for decades that there is never even one meal a week when they are all home together.American television demonstrates children under 10 or 8 feeding themselves via the microwave and Kraft macaroni and cheese or Tostinos pizza rolls.

What an appropriate reading for Thanksgiving Day, maybe one of 2 days a year (the other is Christmas) where families actually sit down and eat together. I am as bad as anyone. Most of my meals are taken alone and I bolt them. I gobble them down to get them over with so i can get back to knitting, reading, studying, the computer.

Mealtime has become a chore, not a grace. How do we take back meal as grace? Your thoughts and suggestions are most welcome.

Insight for the Ages: A Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

In a world of fast food drive-in restaurants, multiple family schedules and three-car garages, the family meal has taken a decided second place in the spiritual and social formation of the culture. In Benedictine spirituality, however, the sacramental value of a meal in which the human concern we promise daily at the altar is demonstrated in the dining room where we prepare and serve and clean up after one another. The Rule is at least as firm on presence at meals at it is about presence at prayer. No one is to be late. No one is to eat before or after meals, or on her own, or on the run because monastic spirituality doesn't revolve around food, either having it or not having it. Monastic spirituality revolves around becoming a contributing part of a people of faith, living with them, learning with them, bearing their burdens, sharing their lives. The meal becomes the sanctifying center that reminds us, day in and day out, that unless we go on building the community around us, participating in it and bearing its burdens then the words family and humanity become a sham, no matter how good our work at the office, no matter how important our work in the world around us.

The Sufi tell a story. To a group of disciples whose hearts were set on a pilgrimage, the elder said:" Take this bitter gourd along. Make sure you dip it into all the holy rivers and bring it into all the holy shrines." When the disciples returned, the bitter gourd was cooked and served. "Strange," said the elder slyly after they had tasted it, "the holy water and the shrines have failed to sweeten it." All the prayer in the world, Benedict knows, is fruitless and futile if it does not translate into a life of human community made richer and sweeter by the efforts of us all. Both community and prayer, therefore, are essential elements of Benedictine spirituality and we may not neglect either.

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