Let the tools of the Monastery and its whole property be regarded as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar. (RB. 31:10)
Allow no one to mistreat the Monastery’s tools and implements in a slovenly or careless way. (RB. 32:4). (Both quotes taken from Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life, p.91).
A couple of years ago, I made a serious mistake. It was a busy night, as I was working at a Sunday Night Supper that our local Episcopal Cathedral does every second Sunday of the month. I was helping to set up a place at a table with a place mat, silverware, napkin and drinking cup before someone sat down to eat. After the person was finished eating and got up to leave I would clean up the place and reset it for another visitor. After I cleared a table and carried the dirty dishes to the cart, I was scraping the remains of the meal into the garbage when suddenly the fork itself slipped out of my hands and into the trash. Before I could reach down and get it, several other volunteers came over with their plates and dumped more refuse on top of the fork and before I knew it, it was impossible for me or anyone else for that matter to retrieve it. It was gone. If I had been a more mature person than I was at the time, I would have disregarded the mess and gone through all the stuff and gotten the fork out. But, I didn’t. Instead, I went to the person who was the leader of the supper and apologized that I had lost the Cathedral’s fork in the trash. Her look at me was “What’s the big deal?” The big deal was, The Rule of St. Benedict‘s admonition to regard the things we use as if they are the sacred vessels of the altar.
“Benedictine spirituality is a sacramental spirituality. It holds all things– the earth and all its goods–as sacred” (Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life, p.115).
The things we use are to be handled with care and with reverence for the presence of God. The tools that include the plates we eat from, the tools we use to make things, a pen, the computer I am using to write these words; all have a purpose in God’s plan for the world. It is up to us to seek union with God in prayer and reverence, through each thing we use, each person we interact with and each moment we spend. When we just use things for the sake of themselves, then they actually own us. When we take the time to acknowledge with reverence for God in all things, they become opportunities for prayer and contemplation.
Keep watch with reverence. God has much to say.
Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB