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{Practicing Benedict} The Finale: A Beginning

The purpose for which we have written this rule is to make it clear that by observing it in our monasteries we can at least achieve the first steps in virtue and good monastic practice. Anyone, however, who wished to press on towards the highest standards of monastic life may turn to the teachings of the holy Fathers, which can lead those who follow them to the very heights of perfection. Indeed, what page, what saying from the sacred scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is not given us by the authority of God as reliable guidance for our lives on earth? … We, however, can only blush with shame when we reflect on the negligence and inadequacy of the monastic lives we lead.

Whoever you may be, then, in your eagerness to reach your Father’s home in heaven, be faithful with Christ’s help to this small Rule which is only a beginning. Starting from there you may in the end aim at the greater heights of monastic teaching and virtue in the works which we have mentioned above and with God’s help you will then be able to reach those heights yourself. Amen.

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 73 (emphasis mine)

I have this memory of sitting at my computer during August’s naptime six weeks into our move to San Francisco. I had just spent the first 45 minutes of his nap building an Ikea desk. I did it backwards the first time and had to take it apart. Then, I drilled and grunted and propped that delicate fake-wood into its proper settings and set that cheap table on its feet. I placed two things upon it: my computer and my Benedictine Handbook.

Then I opened the screen to check in with my writerly friends from grad school. We were a group of women who had spent Thursday nights together throughout those three years in the early 2000’s. We’d get dinner and talk poetry while drinking tea. We had a little closed blog back then where we would post about what we were reading or writing. My friends were publishing books and teaching writing workshops and writing interesting essays on poetry and feminism. And I was wiping my kid’s butt. Not reading. And definitely not writing.

That afternoon, I opened the laptop to see a thread from a friend about her stressful life situation. She was struggling through an incredibly difficult season: unsure of the future of her marriage, trying to find a permanent teaching position, balancing her writing and her adjunct jobs and raising a toddler. She made a statement in her frustration. She said, “If only I could be some Stepford Wife and let somebody else take care of me!”

That’s all she said. She didn’t purposefully make fun of me. She was hurting and I was the selfish one. And you better believe I cried for myself. I sat at that new Ikea desk, my face smashed into the white plastic wood, and cried. I wept and asked God, “Is that all I am? Am I a lazy wife who lets my husband earn the money and take care of me? Am I useless? Am I wasting my gifts here in my home, washing the dishes and playing on the floor with my kid, making grilled cheese sandwiches?”

I had only just then begun my journey with St. Benedict. I was asking God to show me how to find purpose in this life at home. I was asking God how I was supposed to feel like this staying home business had any value compared to the work I had been in full time ministry just months before. I was looking at myself and my days alone with August and my loneliness in this new city, and I was gut-sobbing, “Please God, give me some help here. I don’t know where the joy is.”

You can read the rest over at Patheos…

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{Practicing Benedict} Compassion and Sober Judgment

“The abbot or abbess, once established in office, must often think about the demands made on them by the burden they have undertaken and consider also to whom they will have to give an account of their stewardship. They must understand the call of their office is not to exercise power over those who are their subjects but to serve and help them in their needs. They must be well-grounded in the law of God so that they may have the resources to bring forth what is new and what is old in their teaching. They must be chaste, sober and compassionate and should always let mercy triumph over judgment in the hope of themselves receiving like treatment from the Lord. While they must hate all vice, they must love their brothers or sisters. In correcting faults they must act with prudence being conscious of the danger of breaking the vessel itself by attacking the rust too vigorously. They should always bear their own frailty in mind and remember not to crush the bruised reed.” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 64, emphasis mine)

There are a few things the past ten years have taught me about myself:

  1. Left to my own devices, my brain wants to devour itself and then complain about how bad it tastes.
  2. We are all weak. We are all capable inflicting great pain upon each other.
  3. I really believe that the Spirit of God brings healing. But healing doesn’t come easy; it requires self-honesty. And, usually, the self is the most difficult person with whom to have an honest conversation.

This past weekend I heard another story in the long tale of the broken Church. A friend explained how, during her divorce, she was no longer allowed to take communion in her church. It was a terrible time for her and instead of the church being a supportive place, it was a place of judgment and exclusion. It just so happens that while she was removed from the table, a founder of the church took communion weekly, all while secretly involved in a six-year extramarital affair. We are poor judges of each other.

“They should always bear their own frailty in mind…” What would happen if we actually recognized our own frailties and treated others’ weaknesses with a sober understanding of our own?

Correction in the church is rightfully a scary topic. We’ve all seen that process fail. We’ve all seen people in positions of authority dishing out rebukes while they’re the ones hiding the darkest secrets. Who is worthy to judge?

I keep thinking about this in terms of parenthood. (Shocker!) I’m asking myself how I know when I’m making the right call in terms of correcting my kids. I’m also asking myself when I most believe in the need for justice in the world. You know when? When the kid at the park is purposefully throwing sand in my kid’s eye, that’s when. You want to see someone claiming authority and judgment? See a mama protecting her baby.

Protecting. We are all weak, but we are called to protect each other, protect the body of Christ. And there’s nothing more important to protect than the most vulnerable among us. There are places and moments where we have to take a moral stand, especially when it comes to people in a position of leadership whose choices are harming another.

Judgment is a tricky business, but it is necessary because people deserve protection.

Disciplining your kid is tricky business too, isn’t it? There is a line for behavior that is tolerable. There is a line for behavior that is intolerable. But where is it? And how come no one can seem to agree on it?

I have friends who spank. I have friends who time-out. I have friends who despise time-outs and only believe in time-ins. I have friends whose hairs stand on their necks to even consider that I might have friends who spank. And I have friends who roll their eyes at all of it. We’re all trying to raise kids to live well in this world. How do we make those judgment calls? How do we choose well, respond well, love well, protect well?

I’m starting to believe that it begins in a simple place, whether we’re talking about “discipline in the church” (doesn’t that phrase just make your insides cringe?), discipline for people in positions of authority, or discipline in the home. How do we draw lines, hold out consequences, love well?

I’m convinced that St. Benedict’s words are of utmost value to us right now in this generation of the Church, in this culture of Mommy-wars.

We must be “chaste, sober and compassionate.”

We must “let mercy triumph over judgment.” (That, by the way, is much more complicated than taking the easy way out and not confronting the problem. Think Jesus and the woman caught in adultery—John 7-8.)

We must always “bear [our] own frailty.”

I’m thinking that maybe before I spit out discipline for my kids, I’d better examine my heart. Maybe parenting a stubborn child who deliberately drops his pasta on the floor with a look of rebellion in his eyes should remind me my own rebellion toward God. Parenting should always be changing my view of God and my understanding of mercy. When I’m willing to see it, my children’s sin inevitably points back to my own.

And when I consider such an idea on the grand scale of the Church, I sigh. How beautiful would it be for pastors to be the most vulnerable of all of us? How powerful if every time a pastor was confronted with the sin in her congregation, she were forced to examine her own heart, to find her own faithless wanderings there, to find her own deep need for mercy?

The power of repentance is that God did not create it to be an individual task. He created us to need each other, to draw repentance out of each other, and to walk humbly with each other, always recognizing our own deep needs.

So, let us parent and minister and serve with chaste, sober, compassionate judgment. And let us always see, at the forefront of our lives, our own frailty. Then we can dream to be the Church that loves in the fullest expression, the Church that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes … never fails” (1 Corinthians 13).

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{Practicing Benedict} Offering the Child

“If parents who are from the nobility want to offer to God in the monastery one of their children, who is too young to take personal responsibility, they should draw up a document like that described above and, as they make the offering, wrap the document with the child’s hand in the altar cloth…

Poor people may make the offering of a child in the same way. If they have no property at all, they simply write and offer the child with the document in the presence of witnesses.”

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 59

What does it mean to offer a child to the work of God?

When I first read this chapter two years ago, I was taken with the image of a child’s hand grasping the document written by his parents, promising him to the community, to the life of monasticism, and making a covenant he can’t possibly understand, his hand wrapped in the altar cloth.

Of course, the thought of what parents chose to do in the 6th century—offering a child’s life to a monastery, giving up rights to that child, both as a kind of tithe, but also as a way to feed less mouths and gain religious “approval” (from God? from the church?)—is disturbing. From our free-thinking, individualistic society, we can’t possibly grasp the culture of the Benedict’s time, what it meant to live in poverty. Or, what it meant to live under the authority of the church.

So I won’t really go there. When I read this passage, I just kept seeing my boys holding the life (the promises) my husband and I are writing for them, their boy hands wrapped in the altar cloth.

Both my boys are blankey types. They would prefer to have their blankets with them wherever they go. Although August is able to go to school and church without it, if there’s a new, scary event happening for him, you bet his “Bup” is in hand and it’s the only thing keeping him from an emotional breakdown. Brooksie has loved his blanket since he was five months old and every time he sees it, he throws his body into it, rubs his face in it.

You know I’m moved by images. Sometimes I stare past the moment I’m in with my kids and I see the eternal: Those two boys crawling and falling onto the couch cushions, laughing and rolling; the three of us on the rocking chair: August hugging my neck from behind while Brooksie sits in my lap and holds the book. What am I writing for them? What is the commitment I’m offering the Lord on their behalf?

Last Saturday night while Chris and I ate dinner at some supercool hipster French bistro (records playing through the speakers!), we talked about the boys, and I whispered across the table the secrets my heart prays for them, what I hadn’t mentioned to Chris till then. I’m convinced that we are always writing the document, this desperate offering to God on our children’s behalf.

The question I’m asking myself is what promises I’m making with the life I’m living in front of them. Am I writing for them a future of compassion, of community, of love for the most broken and most vulnerable? Or am I writing a future of the love of comfort, of success, of self-obsession? Am I teaching them to love things more than people? Am I teaching them to live in fear of the approval of others?

This is picture I keep seeing: As their little tired bodies lie back against their sheets, as their eyes roll backward, their cheeks relax, as they sink into the secret place their minds go in the darkness, they hold in their hands the words I’ve written for them that day: the commitment I’m making on their behalf to the God I serve. And in their hands, the blankets they love, wrapped around their hands, like altar cloth.

See, on the altar is the sacrifice, the grace offered from a merciful God. Yes, each day I write for them a future: some of it sweet and good; some of it broken and failing. But covering their hands, covering my attempts at mothering, at committing those sweet lives, is the grace that covers my hands as well, my tired body pressed into my sheets at the end of the day, the future my parents wrote for me and the promises I’ve made and broken and continue to walk in. All of it grace; all of it wrapped around our hands.

All of it sealed on the altar where Jesus breaks and pours out again and again.

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{Practicing Benedict} Do not disappoint me…

“When the decision is made that novices are to be accepted, then they come before the whole community in the oratory to make solemn promise of stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience … Novices must record their promises in a document … Each must write the document in his or her own hand or, if unable to write, ask another to write it instead; then, after adding a personal signature or mark to the document, each must place it individually on the altar.  As the record lies on the altar they intone this verse: ‘Receive me, O Lord, in accordance with your word and I shall live, and do not disappoint me in the hope that you have given me.’ The whole community will repeat this verse three times and add at the end the Gloria Patri. Each novice then prostrates before every member of the community asking their prayers and from that day is counted as a full member of the community.”

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 58 (emphasis mine)

It’s Saturday morning. I stuff my mouth full of pancakes at a diner with one of my favorite 19-year-olds. She looks across the table at me as if I am a surviver, someone once sick but now in recovery. She chews slow then stares in my eyes, says, “I feel like I believe in God one minute, like I’m thanking him and watching him do these amazing things…like I can sing worship songs and really believe them, and then, the next, I’m thinking these crazy thoughts. I hear my professors’ voices calling Jesus’ resurrection a myth. I can’t reconcile my brain and my heart. I don’t understand what’s happening to me. I’ve always believed.”

I stare back. How long have I been working through those same thoughts? How much fear sits in me? What right do I have to look in her eyes and talk about Jesus like I do in those cozy study chairs every Thursday night, our circle full of freshmen girls learning the world, and Christ, and themselves in both?

But she knows. I’ve confessed it enough–my doubt. How can I not? Even as we spread open the onion skin pages of the Gospel of John every week, even as I swear to them that God’s love is deeper than their brains, than their faith or lack thereof?

What can I say to her except that I know? What can I say except, Now it is time to lean back, sweet girl. This is a baptism of fire and you will emerge both burnt and refined.

I beg her to remember the past: every sweet moment where God’s voice broke Earth’s barrier and made its way to her ears. Set up a memorial in your mind, I say. Stones of remembrance, I say. And when the voices of doubt break in, hold up that memory and dig your fingernails in deep.

Jacob and the angel, I say. The wrestling that lasted all night. “I won’t let go until you bless me!” And how the wrestling and the clinging left him with the blessing and the limp.

Believe that the world is far more beautiful and far more complex and far more mysterious than your mind has room for, I say. And remember that God has room for all the beautiful, all the complexity, all the mystery.

“I do believe!” I quote a father’s prayer of hope for all of us faith failures. “Overcome my unbelief!” And the mystery of holding both those truths in the same heart, in the same prayer.

Who am I? I pray in my heart, my eyes on her young face, bringing my diner mug to my lips. Who am I to say anything, Lord? I know myself. I know the ache of my heart, how constant the tapes of doubt jog alongside my prayers of thanksgiving, how quickly my soul can break under the weight of their whispers. How often I kneel beside the couch, holding a physical cross to my forehead and begging: Lord, put this cross in my mind, bigger than the whispers. How I beg for my boys before they fade into the still of evening rest: that if they stray from the Lord, he will always bring them home again.

And then, I recall this prayer, offered by every Benedictine in the history of the order. Every monk has scribbled down the “solemn promise of stability, fidelity…and obedience.” Who can ever promise such a thing?

Of course, sweet Benedict offers them the sort of prayer of commitment that only a doubter would choose when presenting his or her life to the work of God. It is not a prayer of sacrifice, of promised perfection. No, it is a prayer that God would receive the promise, and a gut-beggar-plead that God will not disappoint us in our hope.

This freshman girl looks across the table at me as if I am a recovered doubter. As if these thirteen years of begging at God’s table for peace have finally delivered me smooth-faith brain waves. As if I’ve finished the treatment and come out pure. But the secret is this: I’ve been learning how to make promises, how to scratch them down and lay them flat on the altar. I’ve been learning how to pray with all my heart: My God! Do not disappoint me in this hope!

And I rise from the altar and lift my hands and shout out with the congregation on Easter Sunday, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

And then I sing from my gut as the voices beside me raise:

You make me new. You are making me new…

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{Practicing Benedict} When new clothing is issued

When new clothing is issued, the old should be immediately returned to be put in store for distribution to the poor. Two tunics and two cowls should be enough for each member of the community to provide for night-wear and for laundering. Anything more than that would be excessive and this must be avoided…

There is one saying, however, from the Acts of the Apostles which the superior must always bear in mind, namely that proper provision was made according to the needs of each. (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 55)

I went shopping on Monday. I bought a yellow skirt, gray shorts, an orange sundress, and a new pair of jeans. I felt like these purchases were necessary.   I rarely wore shorts and skirts during our two years in San Francisco. And it’s at least 80 degrees for five to six months of the year in Austin. It felt necessary to update the bare-leg collection around here. Of course, St. Benedict would probably say my purchases were excessive. He would say that a yellow skirt, gray shorts and an orange sundress ought to be avoided (for more reasons that one!). Part of me agrees…

I’ve been in a state of anxiety over my closet for almost fourteen years. 1997 was the year I first encountered poverty. It was shocking to my soul. It snapped me into an awareness of the world, a calling toward compassion, a longing to know how my culture (American, middle class, evangelical) fit into the world I’d been ignoring those seventeen years prior.

I came home sickened by the thought of my Old Navy shorts and piles of t-shirts and–well, I’m not sure what else I wore back then…shorts and t-shirts…oh, yeah! pajama pants! I came home sickened by what I owned, what I threw around, what I valued and my new knowledge of the desperation of so much of the world. I prayed, “Lord, please don’t let me forget.” Then I made a minor vow to my brain that I wouldn’t buy any more clothes.  I broke that vow the next month. So then I made a new vow with my head: I’d only buy cheap clothes.

That’s how my struggle with clothing has been ever since. I dress like most middle class women in their early 30s. I keep up with trends. I like clothes. I like shopping. And, at the same time, I agonize about what I have. I pray about simplicity. I struggle with what it means that I have outfits and a style and Going Out Shoes. Then, I make myself feel better by thinking about how much bigger other people’s closets are. Or I consider that my concern shouldn’t be how many tops I own but the condition of my heart. And, after I hear those whispers in my brain, I see faces. I see the faces of children in the slums of Nairobi. I see the faces of the women I met along the Rio Negro in Brazil. I see the homeless I drive past in Austin.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to practice the spiritual discipline of simplicity in my closet. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that my 17-year-old plan of “only buying cheap clothes” was not necessarily better for those living in poverty. First of all, cheap clothing is usually poorly made, which means it gets worn out faster. I’m less likely to be able to give that top from Target away in three years, which means it will sit in a landfill instead of being worn by someone who could use it. Secondly, cheaper clothes are more likely to have been made in sweatshops. That means those who made them may have been mistreated, paid unfairly, and they may have even been children. (I know it’s possible that more expensive clothing has been made in a sweatshop as well. It’s just that cheaper clothes are often more likely to have been made with cheap labor)

My husband appreciates fashion. Does that shock you? He is the best dressed man I know. I like to describe him as “smooth.” And he has slowly eased me toward the world of quality rather than cheapness, of a small closet filled with a few good pieces rather than a large closet full of every option available. The same part of me that finds God’s joy in the beauty of a good book or grasps the deep value of visual art, is also drawn to beautiful clothes. Maybe there is room for beauty as long as it is balanced by simplicity?

I’m learning simplicity. For New Year’s I loaded up two-thirds of my closet and I listened to Benedict’s instructions that they should be given away to the poor. I gave away clothes I wasn’t in love with or that were rarely worn, and kept a small number of tops I loved, three pairs of jeans that worked. I’m relearning how to shop. When I shop, I’m doing it with a purpose, with intention. I’m shopping for the long-term. I’m ignoring cute things that I don’t need, even when they’re on sale. And I’m shopping with a prayerful heart.

I’ve been learning to ask God about what my possible purchase means to him. What does it say about the state of my heart that I think I need this skirt? Then, if my heart is right, what do I know about where this skirt comes from? Will this skirt hurt or help the world?

I don’t know what the answer is. I wish that God was clearer, firmer with me about what clothes should mean to me. I wish clothes came labeled: “Made unfairly by child labor” so I wouldn’t have to do so much detective work. But, following Jesus is never simple. Neither is practicing justice and simplicity. Sometimes I think God simply loves for us to engage with these questions, to live and make choices with intentionality and reverence for God’s creation.

So, here is an instance when applying St. Benedict’s rule literally may not work in my daily life. But I’m learning how to apply it to my heart because I’m grasping more and more fully what the Lord requires of me: “To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). I really believe justice, mercy and humility should be my standards when I shop.

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{Practicing Benedict} Receiving Guests, Receiving Christ


“Any guest who happens to arrive at the monastery should be received as we would receive Christ himself, because he promised that on the last day he will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me…

As soon as the arrival of a guest is announced, the superior and members of the community should hurry to offer a welcome with warm-hearted courtesy. First of all, they should pray together so as to seal their encounter in the peace of Christ. Prayer should come first and then the kiss of peace, so to evade any delusions which the devil may contrive” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53).

St. Benedict shocks me here by equating “hurry” with welcoming a stranger, as if there’s something about hurry that makes hospitality sincere. Now, when I say hurry I don’t mean in the I’m sooooooo busy way.

Everybody’s busy. And I’m so over our competitions for who is busiest, especially among moms. Who has it hardest because she has the most kids, or has the crying-est baby or who has the kids at the most difficult stage of child-rearing? I know that “being busy” is our culture’s go-to monitor for how important we are or necessary, but I’ve started feeling more and more that it’s such a shame that most of the moms I know are “so busy.”

It seems to me that we’re all hurrying, but we’re just hurrying toward the least life-giving things.

What does it mean to hurry toward hospitality?

(Can I stop here and state: I did not say hurry toward “the hospitality committee” at church. The hospitality committee does not need you to sign up. *Whew* Some words are too loaded for us good Christian girls.)

I mean hospitality of the heart: Hospitality of the spirit, the mind. What does it mean to run toward relational openness? What does it mean to embrace the broken in our daily paths? What does it mean to live with a home that is open, sincerely open to those God brings our way?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. But I’ve been sitting with them for a few years now. And, the more I’ve asked God to show me, the more God has revealed the busy state of my heart and the busy state of my situation.

Last year I wrote a post about walking home from church–eight months pregnant and alone (August and Chris had gone to the park)–and coming upon a convulsing homeless man, who seemed to be suffering by himself. People were around him. Someone had called an ambulance, but he lay on the cement sidewalk and strangers kept their distance. Do you know what I wanted to do but failed to do? I wanted to hold his hand until the ambulance arrived. I didn’t. I didn’t because I pregnant and I was afraid of him. I didn’t because I told myself that there were already people around him and what could I really do to help his situation anyway? I didn’t because I had a Craigslist appointment to pick up a baby swing.

It was a beautiful baby swing. And now it’s sitting in our garage and every time I see it I think about that man on the sidewalk. I bent down low to his ear and whispered, “An ambulance is coming. You’re going to be okay.” And he stared into the sky.

What does it mean to practice hospitality of the heart? To receive the broken at our door as Benedict instructs? What does it mean to welcome the stranger? The drug addict, the orphan, the pimp, the inwardly suffering mother at your child’s school, the neighbor who suspects her husband is cheating, the friend who needs a good dinner and some support in the midst of your already busy week?

See, this post is mostly a series of questions. And I hope I can answer them soundly and with conviction when I am 80-years-old.

Until then, I know this to be true: Busyness is the enemy of hospitality because hospitality demands a slow enough pace to notice. And at the same time, hospitality demands what Benedict calls a  “hurry to offer welcome.” In order to encounter someone in their time of need, we generally have to open ourselves toward them quickly.

Lord, may we slow our bodies and our minds and our eyes enough to notice the people behind the counter at the grocery store, beside the car begging at the stoplight, across from us on the bench at the playground. Lord, give us hearts of hospitality that we may rush to welcome guests into our daily lives, so that, somehow, we may welcome Jesus…

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{Practicing Benedict} A post about monks and errands and eating

“Any who are sent on an errand which will allow them to return to the monastery on the same day must not eat outside, in spite of pressing invitations whatever their source, unless the superior has approved this..” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 51)

Oh, the errands! There are the errands and the falling asleep babies and the boy who wants to walk beside the cart even though you think of a million reasons to convince him that the cart is so much cooler. Oh, to contain him! Especially in Target, where he knows the location of every possible Cars 2 toy and has touched every button on them four times in the past five minutes. How many times can you say, “Wow, you love that? Well, maybe you can save your quarters for it.”
Errands: What can you manage to accomplish? How many stops in the process before the children combust? No more than two, I’ve found. More than two and someone is screaming; one of the three of us is screaming.

And then there are the errands alone. Of course, these are the rare beauties. The Sunday afternoon when all are asleep, even your husband, and you sneak off to look for a gift for a friend and you walk slow and finger the fabric of scarves and sigh at the shoes and whisper at all the shiny.

We are busy people. We have tasks to accomplish. So much of life feels like one errand after another, especially as so much of life takes place inside the happy glowing screens we stare at all day. We’re buying clothes, working, managing the home, wasting time, all on the same device. And busyness, the act of “errand” running, often feels like all we’re good for.

But home is not found in the errands, the tasks, the checks on a list. Our lives are not found in our accomplishments. Each shop and store is a pause and then we return to what is real. What a funny rule Benedict mentions for his monks. He commands them to only eat with one another, as if eating is so holy that to break bread outside of the monastery is to cheat on the family in some way. Is it possible that Benedictine monks make vows to community and stability, even in how they eat their food?

We all know meals matter. We know that studies show that kids who eat dinner regularly with their families are happier, more successful in school, more well-rounded. We know that every culture celebrates around food. It’s not a birthday without a birthday cake. It’s not Thanksgiving without a turkey.

When I was growing up, my mom had a rule that stunned (and frustrated, sometimes) every other family we knew. She fed us breakfast as a family. At 7 am, no matter when we woke up, we were expected to have clothes on (though, sometimes my brothers weren’t yet wearing shirts) and be sitting in our seats for breakfast. My mom was (and still is) a teacher. She had to be out the door at 7:30, but she always set something out on the table for us, whether that was boxes of cereal and bowls or canned biscuits out of the oven. But what mattered was the community of the morning. We were together. We talked. We knew what each of us was dreading that day. (Though I was probably crying about that day’s math quiz and, therefore, couldn’t pay attention to anyone else’s daily dreads.)

What I’m trying to say is this: You eat with your family. And when you eat with them, you know them. Community is always sealed with food. Culture is always best expressed in what is shared. And food never comes out of the ground in individual packaging. Heads of lettuce were made to be chopped into sharable salads. The meat of an animal always feeds more than one. Pies are made to be sliced into pieces and distributed.

So, yes, there are errands. We are a busy people. St. Benedict would not know what to do with the mess we’ve made of living in this culture (taking a life that should be whole and chopping it into a spreadsheet of action points and check lists). But we are counter-cultural people when we stop to eat with our community. When we appreciate the beauty of food, when we slice it and smell it and taste it, when we call the family to the table and tell stories about our day and how we feel and what matters, when we share food and look in each other’s eyes, then we are living community.

Yes, we leave the monastery and run the errands but we always come home for dinner. And when we come home for dinner, we practice the discipline of simplicity: eating, caring for one another, listening, sharing what we own and what we’ve been given.

Eating is very monkish.

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