Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 22

To be read: February 27, June 29, October 30

The brothers are to sleep each in a separate bed.  2They should receive the bedding appropriate to monastic life, according to the direction of their Abbot.  3If it can be done, let all sleep in one large room; but if there are too many, let them sleep in tens or twenties under the care of the seniors who have oversight of them.  4Let a light be kept burning constantly in the cell until morning.  5They should sleep clothed and girded with cinctures or cords, that they may be always ready to rise without delay, but they should remove their knives, to avoid being wounded while asleep.  6And when the sign is given, they must be ready to rise without delay, and let them hasten to arrive at the Work of God before the others, yet with all dignity and decorum.  7The younger brothers should not have their beds beside each other, but intermingled with the older ones.  8And rising for the Work of God, let them gently encourage each other to avoid the excuses of the drowsy. 

This is certainly a chapter that seems to have little relevance to the life of those living outside of the monastic enclosure. Benedict is addressing practical considerations for the temporal living conditions in which the monks find themselves.  And yet, all of us could prosper from taking a critical look at our own temporal living conditions.  Do these conditions promote life giving patterns of behavior, or does our living situation rob us of opportunity for spiritual nurture?  Let’s examine what Benedict is recommending.

First, he recommends that “a light be kept burning constantly in the cell until morning.”  The reason for this is to promote “watchfulness.”  Korneel Vermeiren, OCSO, says that “The monk has to sleep with the attitude of the wise virgins who had their lamps ready when the arrival of the bridegroom was announced.  It is the lamp of prayer and of worship that should never go out.  It is also the symbol of God’s protecting presence.” (Praying with Benedict, p. 34).  Just as the lamp in the Temple burned continuously with pure oil, so our hearts should burn with the pure oil of the Spirit, even in our sleep.

So, how do we promote this watchfulness?  We are to go to sleep “clothed and girded,” ready to respond to the Lord’s call night and day.  But, “they should remove their knives, to avoid being wounded while asleep.”  This is not so much about what we are to wear to bed; rather it is about what we are taking to bed with us.  What thoughts are you allowing to remain in your mind before sleep?  When we conclude the day with Compline, we can lay down the burdens, the failures and successes of the day, and place all in the hands of the Almighty.  We remove the dagger of worldly concerns, shortcomings and sins of the day, and lay that dagger at the feet of the Lord.  The ultimate goal, is that in our watchfulness even our sleep becomes prayer.

“And rising for the Work of God, let them gently encourage each other to avoid the excuses of the drowsy.”  We are to encourage one another.  I have very erratic sleep patterns and from time to time will get into a non-sleep pattern.  But I always lift that up to my accountability partner and seek his prayer, encouragement, and accountability.  He helps me sort through what “daggers” I am carrying to bed, what patterns of behavior are contributing to my sleeplessness, and he gives Spirit-led counsel to me.  As we noted in yesterday’s meditation, we are to “bear one another’s burdens.”  Do not be afraid to ask for help and advice.  We will all sleep better if we show care for one another and lay our daggers down.

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