March 23, July 23, November 22

But, if anyone does not come to table before the verse so that all may say the verse and pray and sit down at table together, and if this failure happens through the individual’s own negligence or fault, they should be reproved up to the second time. If they still do not amend, let them not be permitted to share the common table, but take their meals alone, separated from the company of all. Their portion of wine should be taken away until there is satisfaction and amendment. Anyone not present for the verse said after meals is to be treated in the same manner.

No one is to presume to eat or drink before or after the time appointed. Moreover, if anyone is offered something by a superior and refuses it, then, if later the monk later wants what was refused or anything else, they should receive nothing at all until they have made appropriate amends.

This chapter advises that those repeatedly late and/or absent for community meals are to eat alone – the same recommendation given in Chapter 24, named there as excommunication. Here, a consequence of separateness is given to those who have repeatedly separated themselves.

Prayer, or grace, before meals can be powerful. It is a gathering of awareness and relationship before the necessity of food, eaten together. The sharing of these necessities, prayer and food, builds community; it is a commitment to each other, a recognition of the value of each other. To miss this time can reveal a different motivation, another priority. Maybe there was a knock at the door, maybe ‘nature called’ – circumstances that could not be avoided. These are different to a lateness or absence influenced by other, conscious, or unconscious motivations.

At mealtimes we are with those we want to avoid. This can be obvious, say, in families between siblings who might find it easier to avoid each other during the day. Here, shared meals, at table, are a time to practice civility and kindness, to do something together that we do not feel like doing. Community is about doing at least some daily things together, especially when feelings run contrary to the doing. During these times maturing happens, and an awareness of our motivations can rise. To miss times like these is to miss a time for growth.

Communal meals can also be a time of joy, a time when communion of hearts manifests in action and presence. These are times of profound and simple blessing. The verse, prayers done before and after a meal, recognises this and can open us to the possibility of blessing. Someone late to these, or missing them all together, is absent to the working of God in that time and that place; they miss blessing. Mealtime is a time to experience blessing, to get to know what blessing is, the inner movement of it in life.   

Today though, for some of us, mealtimes have fallen away from what they could be; gathering people together for food can be like herding cats. Eating in front of the TV is not the same as eating in the presence of each other, nor is eating in separate rooms. Here the rule asks us to make a shared commitment to mealtimes as a time of growth and blessing, no matter how these may come – in challenge or in joy.

Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and raising his eyes to heaven, he blessed them and broke them and began handing them to his disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted, and what was left over from them was taken up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Luke 9:16-17, RNJB)