Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On the Daily Manual Work, Part 3

Ideo certis temporibus occupari debent fratres in labore manuum, certis iterum horis in lectione divina.
Therefore, at certain times, the brothers ought to be occupied in manual labor, and during the remaining hours, in lectio divina.
RB 48: 1

Thus, Saint Benedict legislates for three activities during the day: 1) The Opus Dei, the liturgy, the times of which have already been established earlier in the Rule; 2) 'manual labor'; 3) lectio divina, 'divine reading'

Elsewhere, St. Benedict allows for personal needs between Vigils and Lauds, and later in this chapter he admits the possibility of a midday nap. Later Benedictine tradition adds in other personal activities that we would not normally think of as work: practicing a musical instrument, light reading, flower gardening, and so on. I suspect that this falls under St. Benedict's heading of work, but I will wait until later in the chapter to discuss that. Finally, community recreation is a venerated part of most, if not all, monastic schedules. St. Benedict has an analogous time, during which the Conferences or other edifying reading is listened to by the brothers, but in any case, it is a non-liturgical informal gathering of the community before Compline.

What emerges is St. Benedict's famous balance and moderation. We will see that he affords a great amount of time for reading, and that manual labor is generally kept to a very merciful amount. It is also significant that St. Benedict deals with reading primarily in this chapter under the heading of work. While he has qualifying adjectives for the two other types of 'work': The work of God in the liturgy, and the manual work for physical exertion, we can probably extrapolate from these and see reading as another component of work.

Work requires exertion, and not infrequently lectio divina takes effort. We may prefer to read the Bible in snippets, culling the Good Book for our favorite passages, the things that comfort us. St. Benedict instructs his monks to read books 'entire and straight through' [RB 48: 15], not being 'daunted' and 'running away' [cf. Prol. 48] when we encounter sections that makee us squirm a bit. Reading is work. Understanding takes time and effort. But this is work of central importance to the monastic project. In the fields we must turn the soil of the ground in order to plant the seeds that will produce the food we eat. At lectio, we must turn the hardened ground of our hearts and minds so that the Sower Who sows the Word will find good soil there. Reading challenges us constantly to think differently with God's thoughts and not our own. Reading Scripture conditions us to see things from God's perspective and get out of our own small worlds. This is work of the highest order, and as we shall see, in this chapter it is of equal importance to the work of our hands.

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Origen of Alexandria
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