Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Work and the soul

This commentary by Joan Chittister on today's portion of the Rule of Benedict (from Chapter 48, "The Daily Manual Labor") reminded me of a brief conversation I had with Jules Dervaes over at Path to Freedom when I picked up my weekly vegetable order about the importance of working with one's hands to untangle the knots in one's mind and spirit. Chittister also underscores the importance of work "for the upbuilding of the community." I ask myself, "Am I getting my recommended daily allowance of manual labor?" and "Who is my community?" and "What is my work for that community?"
Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the community members should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.

There is little room for excursion into the quixotic in the Rule of Benedict. If any chapter proves that point best, it may well be the chapter on work. Benedict doesn't labor the point but he clearly makes it: Benedictine life is life immersed in the sanctity of the real and work is a fundamental part of it. The function of the spiritual life is not to escape into the next world; it is to live well in this one. The monastic engages in creative work as a way to be responsible for the upbuilding of the community. Work periods, in fact, are specified just as prayer periods are. Work and prayer are opposite sides of the great coin of a life that is both holy and useful, immersed in God and dedicated to the transcendent in the human. It is labor's transfiguration of the commonplace, the transformation of the ordinary that makes co-creators of us all.
(Online text corrected according to the paperback text of The Rule of Bendict: Insight for the Ages, p. 132.)

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