An hour before mealtime, the kitchen workers of the week should each receive a drink and some bread over and above the regular portion, so that at mealtime, they may serve one another without grumbling or hardship. On solemn days, however, they should wait until after the dismissal.
On Sunday immediately after Lauds, those beginning as well as those completing their week of service should make a profound bow in the oratory before all and ask for their prayers. Let the server completing the week recite this verse: “Blessed are you, O God, who have helped me and comforted me” (Dan 3:52; Ps 86: 17). After this verse has been said three times the server receives a blessing. Then the one beginning the service follows and says: “O God, come to my assistance; O God make haste to help me” (Ps 70:2). And all repeat this verse three times. When they have received a blessing, the servers begin their service.
As we are coming to know, the rule is not a handbook on how to conduct a spiritual bootcamp. The divine life is fully aware of how challenging a human life can be without adding undue hardship. We tend to make life unnecessarily hard as it is; the Holy Spirit sits in the heart of this tendency, encouraging and calling us into the gentleness of a compassionate middle way. Benedict is all about this middle way. Unnecessary hardship while serving has the potential to stir any resistance to this service and so undermine what the Spirit might want to do in and with us.
The act of bowing, deeply to the knees rather than just a slow nod of the head, is a yes embodied, a physical sign of an acceptance of service and an acceptance of what this service might have for us in the now of it. The scripture verses add to this; those finishing their week thank God for all that was done for them, those beginning ask for that same help. The repetition of these verses while bowing, as well as being triune, allows yes and acceptance, gratitude and trust, to sink deep into the mind and body.
As a meditating community, Psalm 70:2, “O God, come to my assistance; O God make haste to help me”, reminds us of Abba Isaac’s recommendation to ask for this help day and night (see chapter 4.3). Here we are reminded that the mantra can be said during our service, particularly if we are experiencing resistance, perhaps stubbornness or resentment, or indeed if ego is being ‘puffed up’ by compliment and attention. The mantra said at this time (and during formal meditation) is about growing a space within us where these reactions can be experienced without being overwhelmed by them, and without unnecessary analysis or the cloaking of reaction with thought and imagination.
In all this can be seen something of the relationship between meditation and the work of service: both are ways to undo an egoic use of attention, that is, they take this attention off ourselves and our own performance. “In meditation we learn to [ultimately] lose ourselves in God”, and as we serve we “do our work for its own sake, so that we lose all sense of ourselves”*. In both community service and meditation, we learn to be, without thought, loving one another freely.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10, NRSV)
* John Main, The Heart of Creation, 57.