Thursday, April 14, 2011

time and reverence

Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading (lectione divina) -- Rule of St Benedict

The Family Cloister tells of a monastery in Oregon that has a 24-hour work week -- that is, the monks work 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, and that is sufficient to provide for themselves and even make profit enough to donate to the needy.

I suspect that this is fairly typical.  These horariums show work from 10 to 12 and from either 3:30 to 5:30, or from 2 to 5.

Of course, this doesn't mean the monks are idle the rest of the time.  They rise during the night to pray, and also pray much of the rest of the day.    Another part of the day is devoted to reading and study, and another part to eating

I want to think about this balance.    Those of us "in the world" often work 40 - 60 hours a week, but in most cases, we probably aren't working hard the whole time.  Some productivity books suggest keeping track of a typical work day... how much of the day is REALLY productive?  How much is padding or dead time?  Is there a way to change the ratio?

Of course, some people are really working hard their whole day -- that seems to be one of the demeaning things about the post-industrial Revolution work-week.   People were actually on task, slaving at mechanical labor, for many hours a day with no change or relief.   And no doubt, serfs and slaves were often treated with similar indignity. ... turned into living machines who were exhausted by over-use. 

 No resolution here, I am just trying to think about what type of life is best.   

By varying the routine over the course of the day and also over the course of the year, the Benedictines seemed to provide spaces in Time.

Spaces in the temporal order seem to sometimes act as clutter-catchers.   That is, they open the door to idleness and waste of time.   That is probably why so many Americans are "work-haunted" -- they only feel happy and virtuous when they are doing something.

But monasteries avoid idleness and sloth.    How?   One way seems to be by a dignified pace.   Nothing is hurried, everything has a preparation and conclusion.

This may be a solution for me of the problem of my kids being at loose ends and craving video games or such things.   I tend to get through things with dispatch so I can get something else done.   But life isn't just about "getting things done".   It's above all about reverence, which takes time.     Over-haste tends to reduce real efficiency and also flatten out the significance of the moment.    So, something for me to think about.


  1. This post reminds me of when I hear home schoolers say their work is only about 4 hours per day.

  2. This is very meaningful to me. Thank you.

    amy outta peru {temporarily}

  3. I've been thinking about this so much lately. I definitely live the "do this to move on and get to the next thing" lifestyle. I always feel rushed and like there is never enough time - even when I'm resting doing nothing.

    I know a prayerful schedule (that I STUCK TO) would be enough to do what God wants of me - so hard to break out of the worldly mindset that "production" and "business" is virtue.

  4. Oh and I think this definitely speaks to the concept of "seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you." If the monks are sticking to their schedule of prayer and giving to the poor, then God will bless their fewer hours of work with more success than MY few hours of work if I wasted the other hours NOT seeking God's kingdom.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!