Friday, August 31, 2012

The Monastic Workday

I was once under the impression that contemplatives in monasteries spent every moment in adoration, reading holy books, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament with hands upraised, weeping with joy at the nearness of God.

Not exactly. 

The truth is: once breakfast has been finished, in most monastic communities it's time for work.  The world behind enclosure walls needs as much maintenance as the world inside a ranch house.  And of course it needs more, for a monastery is usually much larger .. thankfully there are more hands to do the work!  

Just think of what you might do in a given day.  Plan and prepare and serve and clean up from meals.  Dust furniture and floors.  Scrub sinks and toilets.  Care for laundry.   Tend to lawns and gardens.  Pay bills.  Do some honest labor to earn money TO pay bills (think monastery cheese, coffee, fruit cake, vestments, icons, crafts...).  Read and answer mail.  Ideally, a monastery also has postulants and novices, who most be guided through formation and study... homeschooled students taught by stay-at-home nuns.  

"Every day lived for God is a rare adventure," wrote Mother Mary Francis PCC in her classic book A Right to be Merry.  "and a Poor Clare nun feels this strongly when she leaves the refectory each morning, in soul refreshed with many blessings, and in body fortified with hot coffee and homemade bread."

Mother goes on:  "Now the big monastery stretches its long cloisters like arms, the windows yawn wide with sunlight, and sounds and smells awaken everywhere.  Soon the fragrant odor of cooking apples and baking bread comes spiralling out of the kitchen.  Typewriters begin their tap dance..... the sacristan goes to see about the Lord's accessories for His next public appearance..."

We will talk more about work as "our monastic day" continues.  We will, God willing, talk more about everything.  For prayer has not ceased with the baking of apples (during which many aspirational prayers are surely offered).  Meals come in cycles.  There is chant to be sung; there are books to be meditiated upon and savored.

And now an aside:  One book that we might savor as we continue through this "exercise of a monastic day" is A RIGHT TO BE MERRY by Mother Mary Francis PCC... the book I quoted above.  Because I am strongly recommending it, I hope the late author's Community will forgive my ample use of quotes as these posts go on!  The book is available from Ignatius Press (click here to view), where it is currently a sale item.  It's also on Amazon... and I've just learned it's "on sale" there as well.  I could write pages of my own love for this poetic and real and wonderfully humorous book, but one of the people going through our "monastic day" with us probably said it best, in an e-mail that I received yesterday: 

"Your blog right on top of reading A Right To Be Merry is absolutely stunning.  I think the combination is the most energizing thing to happen to my own heart in quite a long time."

I'm now reopening my own dog-eared copy.  I expect to again be stunned.    

Text not in quotes

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