How do you spend your time?
A common refrain I hear today is “I don’t have enough time!” I catch myself saying this far too often.
The monastic movement viewed time differently than we do today. They did not stress over having enough time to get everything done. Instead, they viewed all of their time as a gift from God to be used on two things: work and prayer.
“At their very inception monasteries established a daily, weekly and yearly rhythm based on a Christian view of time, and they have continued to do so ever since.” (Sittser 97) Monasteries removed themselves from the hectic pace of “normal” life and engaged in a slow, deliberate pace of work and prayer.
Christians that wanted to live this type of life would join a monastery. Monasteries were groups of people that were committed to living under a “rule” of the Abba or Abbas. The most famous of these was the Rule of St. Benedict.
All monks would work throughout the day. Some would cook and clean. Others would engage in a kind of trade. Their work would be interrupted eight times a day for prayer (or as one monk commented- his prayer was interrupted by their work). “The primary vehicle for prayer was the observance of the Divine Office, which consisted of eight short worship services a day (matins was the first, which began at 2:00 am, followed by lauds at dawn, then prime, terce, sext, and none, vespers at sundown, and finally compline, which ended the day.)” (Sittser 110)
Prayer and work were meant to work in partnership with one another in order to move the person into a deeper relationship with God. “Prayer protected them from turning their work into an idol; work kept their prayers from becoming an empty exercise.” (Sittser 111).
How would your life be characterized today?
Work and sports?
Work and family?
Work and fishing?
The monks committed to work and prayer, and we can learn a lot from their commitment.
I traveled with Jerry Sittser and a group of students in college to Tall Timber Ranch in the heart of the Cascade Mountains for a January term. During this month in the mountains, were lived by a modified version of the Rule of St. Benedict (don’t worry, we didn’t wake up at 2 am).
At first the rhythm felt foreign and disorienting. Where was my technology? Worship again- didn’t we just do that?!
After a week, I felt my mind start to get used to the new rhythm of life. I found myself looking forward to the times of worship and study. I felt more centered and less hectic.
Sitter offers some suggestions for how we can adopt the principles of a monastic rhythm to our daily lives:
“Carefully analyze how you schedule your time over a typical week. How can you develop a healthier rhythm that reflects the monastic integration of prayer and work? For example, try to pause briefly three times during the day to pray. In addition, pray over your day’s schedule first thing in the morning. Then, at the end of your day, review the day’s activities, thanking God for his provision, confessing your sin and surrendering areas of concern to God. Finally, try to protect the Lord’s Day, if you can, by turning it into a day of worship, celebration, community, and rest. Plan next Sunday with that in mind.” (Sitter 117)