Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 5 - In the Refectory

If you were spending the new year in a Benedictine monastery, you would have the incalculable joy of not having to tweak your diet after the Christmas holy days. Just think of it!

In some of the more traditional houses, breakfast is coffee and bread, eaten while standing and preceded by several hours of worship and prayer, also standing, with kneeling thrown in for good measure and enough sitting to keep you from keeling over in exhaustion.

Coffee and bread for breakfast and often a monastically substantial noon meal, following a period of work and instruction and more prayer. By substantial I mean “veg” and protein, with a few nutritious additions.

Through part of the year, usually during Lent, a modified diet, lovingly referred to as the Black Fast, is observed. Some orders abstain from butter, cheese, milk, eggs, and flesh meat during those weeks. At times, some have also limited daily meals to one, in the evening. That would lower your cloistered cholesterol considerably! Several studies over the last decades have been conducted using monastic samples, because the data is so pure . . . all eating the same food at the same hours, getting the same amount of sleep and exercise, enjoying the same pursuits. Overall, nuns are documented long live-ers!

The typical evening meal is a "collation," usually a cold meal, such as breads and salads or hard-cooked eggs, when permitted, as well as fruits and raw vegetables and sometimes soup. These menus have been altered considerably in the last thirty years and differ from order to order and from house to house, but suffice to say, most cloistered nuns do not have the run of the kitchen or access to vending machines.

Imagine having your New Year's resolutions resolved for you by the house in which you have chosen to live! Study is required, and exercise and work and lots of worship and prayer and plenty of sleep, and a healthy diet. The catch, of course, is that your sleep is interrupted at midnight for prayer in the chapel, and the food is that which is put before you. The exercise takes place within the garden walks and walls, and for the first years of your formation, your reading is chosen for you. Rather like going back to college, without the parties . . . or money from home!

One is reminded of Paul's allegory concerning those who "win the prize" because they train to that end.

Have we chosen for ourselves, as those who have the responsibility over the heart's cloister, a small and necessary discipline that will serve to advance our love for God and others? We said earlier that within eleven days, if we will forsake complaining or nail biting or taking second helpings, our minds and bodies will have adjusted to the change and will be able to keep it, permanently.

We have all seen, at times, after a few days of personal "conversatio," how we are reminded NOT TO DO what we have determined not to do, just as we were about to do it! Or we have realized just in time that we were about to forget or to forego something we had begun to do, faithfully and routinely? Our souls remember; our minds remind us. The Holy Spirit intervenes, for He takes our decisions seriously, even when we don't. Our choice is one of character: will we do what we determined to do, or forsake what we determined to forsake, even if no one ever sees or knows what we have chosen? Such is the "rule" in the monastery of the heart.

Our souls are ready to be trained and are apt students, most of the time. Our flesh isn't monastic, but no matter, it doesn't have charge of the house!

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me."
Revelation 3:20 . . . Photo by Kerry

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