Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Even Monks Need Sabbath Time

I am back from Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery.  I tend to think of monastics as leading a life that hasn't changed over the centuries, at least in terms of schedule.  So, I was surprised to arrive on a "Desert Day," something new.

At Mepkin, the monks begin their day by getting up at 3 a.m. and going to their first worship service, Vigils, at 3:20 a.m.  It's the first of 8 services of varying lengths throughout the day.

On a Desert Day, the first Friday of every month, the monks can sleep late.  They don't have a service until the 7:30 a.m. Eucharist Mass.  The second and last service is a short Benediction service at 7:00 p.m.

The Abbot told us that they adopted a Desert Day routine because they needed more rest.  On a Desert Day, they try very hard to do no work of any kind.  It's a day to slow down and to do far less than they usually do.  He sounded a bit despairing about how busy they'd become at the monastery.

I said, "So even monks need Sabbath time." 

The Abbot smiled and nodded. 

At first I felt relieved that I'm not the only one who feels bound to a relentless schedule.  Later, I felt terribly sad.  As I told my spouse later, I tend to think of monks as leading the most balanced lives possible:  work, prayer/worship, and study. 

My spouse said, "None of which is rest."

As usual, my spouse went straight to the heart of the matter. 

It shouldn't surprise me that monks feel the need for rest.  After all, they have a fairly small community of members, many of whom are significantly older, and they have an ever-increasing stream of visitors.  Their Benedictine tradition requires hospitality to strangers, but still, it must be tough.  They have a huge property to maintain, and several businesses.  No wonder they need a down day once a month.

I wish they could have a day a week.  Their monastery gives me such a gift of renewal.  I wish the same renewal for them.

No comments: