March 14, July 14, November 13
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 the monks 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 their week recite this verse: “Blessed are you, Lord God, who have helped me and comforted me” (Dan 3:52; Ps 86: 17). After this verse has been said three times they receive a blessing. Then the one beginning their service follows and says: “God, come to my assistance; Lord make haste to help me” (Ps 70:2). And all repeat this verse three times. When they have received a blessing, the server begins 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, “God, come to my assistance; Lord 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, 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 nothing to anyone, except love of one another, for the one who loves the other has fulfilled the law. For: You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to your neighbour, and so love is the fulfilment of the Law. (Romans 13:8-10, RNJB)
 John Main, The Heart of Creation, 57.
Thanks Anne-Marie for reminding me of John Main’s ‘Heart of Creation’ quote..
Very thankful Andrew as it helps me too…I’ve been thinking about love a lot. We can’t self-consciously try to love but we can participate in God’s love by firstly allowing ourselves to be loved and this can be very difficult. Meditation opens us up so that we are more able to receive this love and so it flows on to others in our relationships and work. It also enables us to recognise the love in other people as they go about their work, and to see Christ in them.
You reminded me of a paragraph in Meg Funk’s book, “Thoughts Matter”. She says that Cassian says that work is good in itself. “As a spiritual practice it is not done “to get something done.” Being mindful of God’s presence is, in face, the interior work of my soul. The exterior work of my body provides the form through which I attend to my desire to forge an urgent relationship with God, one that will last for all eternity but starts in the here and now, Work, therefore, is prayer (Inst. X.22).” p. 61
The sentence, that work is not done “to get something done” is so freeing….
Thanks Anne-Marie, for sharing this….sits well with the chapter.
The beauty of serving (and cooking) for the community is that it really is serving our brothers and sisters in a very direct, simple and, hopefully, loving way, in a way that may not be so obvious in other kinds of work (cataloging the library for example). So it is important that those preparing and serving food for the community see it as a genuine opportunity to express their care and concern, and welcome the chance to do it, not simply to see it as another burdensome chore.
Thanks Davis, well said…
That’s David….too quick on the keyboard.
I’ve been called a lot worse than Davis before now!