I was in an ad hoc group recently exploring the Rule of St. Benedict (and Joan Chittister’s daily reflections on it); the Benedictine Rule applied at the Carpenter’s Boat Shop in Pemaquid, Maine, where “time is spent each day in the seven daily practices of work, study, prayer, recreation, service, hospitality, and ecumenical worship;” and the Rule (if any) in our own lives.
(For another take on the Rule, check out Dave Pollard’s thoughts on How To Be More Resilient … reads very much like a Rule of Life, with pretty much the same elements as found in Benedict’s. One favourite: Avoid Bad News That is Not Actionable.)
I had to leave the group to meet someone else before I could respond to the question that was asked (paraphrasing), “Is there a Rule, or a routine, that governs or orders your life?”
Overall, I would say the Rule for me right now, intended to provide a space for me to imitate God and live life fully, is a very flexible routine, particularly from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday-Friday (when my schedule is most determined by my desires). The elements are very routine, perhaps monotonous to some — same thing every week, pretty much, except for about a week out of every month or two when I find myself travelling; the placement of the elements within each day, the amount of time spent on each, and the overlap of the elements, otoh, are flexible from day to day, and season to season.
Here are the details (and looking at Benedict’s Rule, I see that details are the order of the day!):
Indoor Housework: Making the bed, cleaning some of the shower/tub, washing dishes, and cleaning kitchen counters and stovetop every day. Combined, that takes about 15-20 mins. Sometimes also sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, tidying up, organising things, doing a thorough bathroom or kitchen cleaning, doing laundry.
Outdoor Housework: In winter, some days, shoveling snow; in autumn, some days, raking, bagging, and hauling leaves; in spring and summer, many days, raking, planting, weeding, and watering in the garden for anywhere from 30 mins to 4 hours per day. Last year (and likely this year), doing exterior scraping and painting.
- Other: Managing and tracking our bills, banking, taxes, charitable gifts, and financial investments. Grocery and drugstore shopping. Trip-planning.
To Other Inhabitants of the House: Responding to dog’s needs and desires (to the extent I know them!) each weekday. Making dinner four or five nights per week, and sometimes remembering to make lunch for my spouse and to clean his coffee equipment. (Some of the above Work is also partly a service to others in the house.)
To Friends, Community, World: Spending part of most days helping to maintain a website for a public library (from home); some days it takes 5-mins, some days 8-10 hours. Spending energy engaging with my friends. Offering up a prayer each morning to “be well within my own soul and part of the world’s healing today,” and trying to keep myself open to do it. Writing letters to people and commemorating occasions like birthdays. When studying, synthesising what I am learning and sharing it with others (perhaps this is an anti-service ?:-)). Meditating regularly, and being silent most of the day. Being available to listen, spend time, visit, etc.
- To Earth: Often refraining from driving my car. Recycling, reusing, reducing. Making conscious daily decisions about using resources.
Physical: Working out (with weights) each week day, usually for a half-hour in late afternoon. Walking at least 20 minutes per day, most days, and often more than that. Playing with the dog. Sleeping and dreaming. Eating (not always well). Sex. Resting when tired.
Social: On some days (usually at least once per week, sometimes on as many as four days per week), hanging out with friends or with groups of friends, eating, talking, laughing, spending time together. Keeping in touch by email with friends/family. Often attending two weekly worship services (two different groups of people). Sometimes participating in small groups that meet regularly.
Mental: Working on at least one NYT or Herald crossword puzzle each night, usually a cryptic. Reading crime novels most nights before bed. This all falls outside the daytime parameter, but watching a half-hour of some old TV show or a BBC show each night, plus sometimes a half-hour of an HGTV show or sports, seems relaxing; more than that feels tiring.
Ritualised: With spouse, reading together 20 pages or so of a cartoon book like Dilbert or Get Fuzzy before bed. Enjoying hot tea with biscuits a couple of times per day. Waking up slowly. Receiving Eucharist once a week. Drinking wine or beer with a meal or a glass of port before bed. My physical workout is a daily ritual/meditative activity.
- Soulful/Emotional: On most days, listening to music or news for about an hour per day; the news can (doesn’t always) connect me with the rest of the world and evoke compassion, the music often evokes tears, longing, dancing, singing. Much of the rest of my day is silent — though as I write this I can hear the whirr of the computer, the tapping of the keys as I type, the wind whipping up outside, the furnace kick off, the dog gently snoring, and so on. Sometimes I sing aloud off and on during the day (without accompanying music).
Reading and Thinking: Spending time studying non-fiction books (often girardian in nature), preparing for and participating in study groups, reading online essays, articles, news, humour on a wide spectrum of topics, from a variety of perspectives, and taking time to consider, synthesise. and analyse the ideas and experiences presented.
Human Nature Observation: Listening to and watching people, including myself, learning who we are.
- (Non-Human) Nature Observation: Studying the outdoors, taking photos, learning to identify birds and plants and shells and fungi, walking on the beach, noticing seasonal changes, looking at the moon, watching snow fall, watching the sun move around the house, etc. Spending at least 10 mins each day — often more — looking out a window (if weather harsh) or sitting/being outside — and doing nothing else. Wondering what my dog is experiencing.
Prayer: Praying throughout the day, in conversation with God about everything. Meditating, sometimes while staring out a window or sitting outside, sometimes in the more formal Buddhist tradition, often while waking up and making the transition from dreams to daytime consciousness.
Hospitality: Very little. In the past (in my 20s and early 30s), hospitality was a big part of my life. These days, it’s minor, limited to hosting occasional overnight visits from friends/family.
Worship: Participate in a mid-week Eucharistic service most weeks, and attending a Sunday service 2-4 times per month. During each day, offering silent prayers of gratitude and thanks.
I’d add to these elements of the Rule a couple of others that seem important for Benedict (and me):
Silence: My day is probably defined most by silence. Rarely schedule anything for two days of the week, and on those days may not speak to anyone or hear anyone else’s voice from getting out of bed until five or six p.m. The other days, from one to five hours are spent in silence. On some days, I sing aloud quite a bit. The TV is on during the daytime only when I work out (using a videotape) — occasionally, I watch 5 mins of Ellen or Oprah or Dr. Phil afterward. Very rarely during a weekday (maybe six times per year), I’ll sit down and watch a show for 30 or 60 mins. Mostly, the house is quiet(ish).
Confession: Confession — of my blindness, my complicity with evil and participation in violence, my rush to judgment, and so on — is important to me. Confessing corporately at the weekly Eucharist service, and privately as I feel moved.
Of course there are appointments — vet visits, doctor visits, hair cuts, various meetings, etc. — and unexpected things that change the routine of the daily, though they’re not frequent in my life at the moment. Probably they were (are?) extremely minimised for most Benedictine monks and nuns.
When I review this list, I notice that I don’t do much art, craft, diy. I used to make collages, make my own stationary and cards, paint, cut and paste, enjoy rearranging and decorating the house, cook creatively … I don’t do those things now. I don’t know why, and I don’t know if I miss doing them. Photography is the only art/craft I seem to do now. Handicrafts elude me. Poetry swims just below the surface.
I notice that I don’t do much hospitality, and I do miss it.
Here’s something funny from the Rule of St. Benedict, in the section on How the Monks Are To Sleep:
“Let them sleep clothed and girded with cinctures or cords, that they may be always ready; but let them not have knives at their sides whilst they sleep, lest perchance the sleeping be wounded in their dreams ….”