Monday, November 19, 2007

Reading: Nov 19

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

March 20, July 20, November 19
Chapter 41: At What Hours the Meals Should Be Taken

From holy Easter until Pentecost
let the brothers take dinner at the sixth hour
and supper in the evening.

From Pentecost throughout the summer,
unless the monks have work in the fields
let them fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until the ninth hour;
on the other days let them dine at the sixth hour.
This dinner at the sixth hour shall be the daily schedule
if they have work in the fields
or the heat of summer is extreme;
the Abbot's foresight shall decide on this.

Thus it is that he should adapt and arrange everything
in such a way that souls may be saved
and that the brethren may do their work
without just cause for murmuring.

From the Ides of September until the beginning of Lent
let them always take their dinner at the ninth hour.

In Lent until Easter let them dine in the evening.
But this evening hour shall be so determined
that they will not need the light of a lamp while eating,
Indeed at all seasons
let the hour, whether for supper or for dinner, be so arranged
that everything will be done by daylight.

Some Thoughts:

This might seem a ridiculous observation to some, but it is something with which I struggle and as a result, my health suffers. I do not eat my meals regularly. I am very bad this way. As a diabetic, I have no excuse. So i am struck with the Benedictine orderliness we see here.

Do any of us fast regularly? As a diabetic, I have been strenuously advised against skipping any meal by both my doctor and other Benedictines. So I fast from a food group. Such as beef or cheese. The latter is a strenuous fast for me.

There is much else that could be said about this reading and I hope others will say it. One thing I wonder about is what would it be like to do everything that needs doing only by daylight and then going to bed when the sun sets. We are so accustomed to electricity and prolonging the day thereby. But I wonder what it would be like.

Insight for the Ages: A Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

The Rule of Benedict divides the year's meal schedules into four parts. From Easter to Pentecost there are no fast days and the meals are taken at noon and before sundown. After Pentecost, Wednesdays and Fridays are fast days, as they were for all Christians of the period, and the meal, probably the only meal of the day was to be delayed, the Rule mandates, until about three o'clock. But the law is no sooner made until Benedictine spirituality raises its fresh and liberating head again and softens the prescription with "unless." Unless it would be too hard to do. Unless they are too tired to wait. Unless the day is too hot to add one more difficulty to it. Then, the abbot or prioress and only the abbot or prioress may decide to mitigate the Rule, to change the law, to allow the relaxation. And that is the issue. It is the abbot or prioress who decides what the change will be, not the individual monastic. Life, in other words, is not of our own choosing. The vagaries of life are not under our control. Circumstances change things and real spirituality demands that we be prepared at all times to accept them with faith and hope.

It isn't that Benedictine spirituality is meant to be lax, it is that it is meant to be sensible and it is meant to be serene. What is the use of making up difficulties when all we really have to do in life is to learn to bear well what must, under any circumstances, be borne.

The third period of the year, from September 13 to Ash Wednesday, was the period known as "the monastic Lent." Here, Benedictine spirituality called for a measure above and beyond the norm. To do simply what was required was not enough. Benedictine spirituality called for extra effort in the development of the spiritual life. It is an interesting insertion in a Rule that otherwise seems to be based on exceptions, mitigation, differences, basic Christian practice and the law of averages.

Indeed, Benedictine spirituality is clearly rooted in living ordinary life with extraordinary awareness and commitment, a characteristic, in fact, that is common to monasticism both East and West. As the Zen Masters teach: "One day a new disciple came up to the master Joshu. 'I have just entered the brotherhood,' the disciple said. 'and I am anxious to learn the first principle of Zen. Will you please teach it to me?' he asked. So Joshu said, 'Have you eaten your supper?' And the novice answered, 'Yes, I have eaten.' So Joshu said, 'Then now wash your bowl.'"

The first principle of Benedictinism, too, is to do what must be done with special care and special zeal so that doing it can change our consciousness and carve our souls into the kind of beauty that comes from simple things. It is so easy to go through life looking feverishly for special ways to find God when God is most of all to be found in doing common things with uncommon conscientiousness.

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