Work – May 2021 – What keeps me busy and active as a monastic? How do I use my hands, talents, labor for the good of others?
What does Work look like for a Monastic? Especially if he or she is Retired, Free of any great responsibilities, in some ways no longer in charge or productive in the way the world sees productivity?
The Benedictine view of work is very different from the secular or mundane view of work. Work for the benedictine is about complimenting the day with activity, it is about Time Management, it is about the principal work of a Monk which is the Opus Dei (The Sanctification of Time).
What does this look like in a practical way for dispersed Monastics?
The first challenge for dispersed monastics is how one Compliments one’s day with activity. What time do I get up? What time do I go to bed? When do I pray the Daily Office? And When do I take in my meals? Because we do not have a Monastery that follows a set schedule for all of these activities, it is up to us to compliment our day with all of these activities. In other words, our day will look very different depending upon our surroundings, living situation, family limitations, and local customs. Eg. In Mexico we eat lunch between 2 and 4 pm and Supper or Dinner between 8 and 10. I take a daily coffee or tea break between 4 and 5. The word COMPLIMENT is to be emphasized here. Nothing in our day should overwhelm, stress, be overemphasized, or stand out more than anything else. We seek BALANCE in all things. A balanced, measured, well organized daily ROUTINE for me is the monastic balance that we should all strive to obtain.
This for any Monastic, active or inactive, retired or still working, Time Management is of all essential. Monasteries have constant bells ringing throughout the day to remind the Monk of his or her duty in any given moment or time of day. As secular monastics or dispersed monastics we do not have the Luxury of Bells to manage our time. Therefore we need to create regular habits, activities, and moments where we fulfill our duties both secular and religious. If one does not live alone it means coordinating and organizing meal times together. If one has family duties it means finding the right time to do chores, cleaning, organizing and attend to family matters alongside personal times of prayer and study.
What has helped me is to know that some activities are part of a daily routine and others part of a weekly routine. Some activities take place once a week only and others daily. Study is sometimes best done on a weekly not a daily basis. That is why I like to set aside one day or part of a day week a week for study, reading, writing, journaling, and more personal prayer. (Mondays at a Retreat House when possible). I just started back after more than a year of not having a space for study and quiet reflexion.
The Sanctification of Time (Opus Dei)
The Opus Dei for a Secular Monastic is much more about self acceptance than self imposition. When do I pray? What time? How long for? What kind of practice or practices? I like to follow the schedule of the Jerusalem Community which meets daily for prayer 3 times a day. Morning, Noon, and Night or Evening. This is in keeping with the most ancient Christian and Jewish practice of Daily Prayer. It is different from most Benedictine Monasteries who pray on an average 5 times to 7 times a day. This is not a very practical schedule for Secular Monastics. But since most of us eat 3 times a day it is usually easier to organize our prayer time close or around our eating times since that is such a present part of our daily routine. All we really need to do is extend our eating times to include prayer times before or after.
Creativity has to be at the Center of how one organizes his or her daily schedule. Routine without monotony. Variety of activities. The Liturgical Calendar for me offers me more than enough variety with seasons, saints days, daily lessons that change, and plenty of musical styles and genres to keep me from being bored, even in the Long Green Season. When things get too ordinary Walking Meditations always seem to get me out of the rut.
My only real Hobby is Cooking which I practice on a daily basis but also is part of my daily routine. Sometimes I have to separate leisurely cooking from just getting lunch or dinner ready. I admire those who quilt, knit, do scrap books and puzzles, or just read intensely. But I do recommend highly some kind of creative activity that we do on a regular basis. Daily exercise or regular walking or biking at least should be included in a Monastic’s schedule.
In the end, what makes us more monastic than most others is our ability to juggle prayer, work, service, study, and recreative time in a way that is not stressful but liberating. A way in which we feel free in our activity and at ease in our daily routine. This is an essential part to Monastic Work and Play.
Doing some kind of volunteer work or Public Service with no lucrative end is also part of the Monastic Vision. It goes hand in hand with Benedicts idea of Welcoming all as Christ and Serving the other who is in need by means of the Works of Mercy in Matthew 24. Again what we do depends upon our time, talent, treasure, and passion. I volunteer at a day center for LGTBQ+ elderly and hope to start walking dogs at a local shelter where they all are in need of exercise. Me too!
There are many practical matters when it comes to how a secular monastic lives into a daily and weekly routine. There are always adaptations, need for rearranging schedules, seasonal issues when we have more and less energy to do certain things, and of course individual crisis, and personal emergencies. All of this must be kept in check, and always without a sense of guilt about what we have done or left undone.
Yet, Even in Monasteries I have seen Priors texting on their I Phones during silent meals, jotting down notes by the guest master finishing lunch, and hurried eating in the refectory, and a flexible breakfast schedule in nearly all monastic communities. Time is Time, and there never seems to be enough of it no matter where you are. Attendance at the Opus Dei in the Monastery never 100 per cent, even less with the Priors and Abbots. But everyone finds time to do most of the things required, most of the time, emphasis on MOST!
I hope this reflection has given you some insight into your own understanding of Monastic Work. For me Monastic Work is a creative blending of regular activities with the ongoing nuances of real human life. Creating schedules and activities where all thing come together in a complimentary way is the greatest challenge but also joy of the secular monastic life. I also miss my quiet times and visits to the Monastery where I do not have to think very much about organizing my time but just fold into the local schedule of the existing Priory of Abbey. Marching then to the tune of a different drummer, or is it a different bell?