Wednesday, March 28, 2007

St. Benedict on Lent, Part 10

"That is to say, let each monk withhold from his body some food, drink, sleep, talkativeness, and jesting."

In her marvelous little book Thoughts Matter, Sr. Margaret-Mary Funk (no relation!) recommends fasting as 'a good practice to adopt as we start serious work in the spritual life'. If we fast by simply eating only what is necessary and at proper times (not snacking, that is), then "we can get in touch with our thoughts, because when we feel the bodily need of food and drink, we begin to notice our thoughts about food and we know we must let them go without acting on them if we hope to progress in calming our mind." [p. 26]

John Cassian, as I have pointed out here on other occasions, teaches that the interval between thought and bodily action is medicinal for us because when we conceive of an action (eating), we must often seek out an opportunity to act on this conceived thought. In the interval, we have a chance to think better of it. Making a prior decision only to eat a certain amount at a certain time and perhaps keeping food in an out-of-the-way place allows us to examine the thought of eating and determine if we really want to act on it. Too often today, we keep bags of chips on our desks, or absent-mindedly grab a soda from the fridge on the way through without observing this interval and acting freely.

Abstention from food, drink and sleep also simply slows the body down. We have less excess energy that needs burning up, so we are less anxious, less apt to jabber thoughtlessly and to overdo our work (though for younger men--this may apply to women as well--the unaccustomed lack of energy may seek compensation in anger or lustful impulses which are sources of energy; these impulses will dry up if we are persistent in self-denial).

The advice against talkativeness and jesting sometimes strikes modern rootless man as inhumane: how do we build community if we can't talk and break the ice with a joke? While a good humored monk is always to be prized, we can often use a quick, nervous word as a means of keeping our relationships at the most superficial level. Having to sit next to someone or work with someone without talking or cracking a joke again forces us to deal with our thoughts, rather than allowing them to drive us to impulsive chatter. This discomfort, too, will dry up, if we force ourselves to observe a gentle silence and in doing so, take time to examine what is taking place in our heads. We are often projecting ideas onto others: "He doesn't like me;" "He thinks I'm unfriendly;" "He's unhappy today..." We seek to determine and control others' moods without the benefit of access to the others' interiors. At the same time, we are not paying any attention to our own interior, over which we should have some control. We will not enjoy interior freedom as long as we allow the impulse to talk and joke cloud the interior work of discernment.


Bryan L said...

A wonderful posting! Too many times today we rely on a TV for "background noise" or leave a radio playing. Most people are very uncomfortable without some type of noise or talk. It is good for us to slow dwon and really listen to what is in our heart. I really enjoy reading your blogs, please keep them going!

Anonymous said...

Joking around or chatting idly also keep my attention from the needs of others. I don't notice their reactions because I'm too busy on what I want.

Thanks for your reflections!


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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