Gentleness with Self

For many years it’s been my practice to try to get up an hour earlier than the horarium demands in order to have more time for prayer and reading before the busy-ness of the day starts. Recently, it’s been proving harder to do. It’s cold and dark, and my bodyclock has been in rebellion. If St Teresa of Avila could admit that there were days when she couldn’t swat a fly for the love of God, why should I have any problem with my duvet difficulty? Because, of course, I do: I’m slightly rattled that I want to sleep when I feel I should ‘really’ be praying.

It’s very easy to beat oneself up about what one has not done: to feel a failure because one has not lived up to standards one has set oneself. I think that often causes a great deal of unnecessary anguish. Sometimes it is the anguish of mortified pride, because what we decide to do, even though good in itself, is not always of obligation. We are annoyed with ourselves for failing to do what we wanted, not what God asked.

We are currently reading St Benedict’s chapter on the cellarer or business manager of the monastery (RB 31). I hope to comment more extensively tomorrow, but today I should like to draw your attention to just two points: according to Benedict, the most important quality the cellarer should possess is humility, and again and again it is stressed that he should do neither more nor less than is required of him by the abbot. The desire to do more can be commendable, but it can also be a form of spiritual ambition which is anything but godly. To tell them apart may require some delicate discernment. I may be wrong, but I suspect my need of sleep is greater than my need of extra prayer at the moment. God is being gentle with me. I just have to learn to be gentle with myself.

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20 thoughts on “Gentleness with Self”

  1. Of course I do not have a schedule to follow and being a pensioner I am not even confined to work hours either- good or bad, it matters not- invariably, what happens is I can’t get done even half of what I would like to get done. Be it illness, be it malnutrition, be sheer laziness, the schedule I set myself, I’ve come to realize is for my own convenience and when my body rebels against, it has every right to do so- at my age, I should be ashamed of myself to expect my body to do what I demand, it should do.

  2. I’m sure that it’s because you *need* that extra rest. In a small community, where there is so much to do, and few to do it all, mounting exhaustion may be a real problem. My memory is that Sta Teresa herself was savvy about the need for proper sleep !

  3. Re-set your alarm clock to the horarium hour, then mutter “I am asleep but my heart is awake” as you drift off into a delicious slumber… (As you can tell, I’m a great believer in the gift of sleep!) And thank you for your honesty in sharing this.

  4. Is all this early rising merely a symptom of being too busy during the rest of the day and wanting to claw back some quality time with God? I never, of course, reached the dizzy heights of any kind of monastic office, but I do fondly recall poor, dear Dom. Leo, who was Prior, Head Chef, OiC Finance, Deputy Guestmaster and Guardian of the all-important Pig Sty saying he reckoned monastic life was much like any other: “One damn thing after another!”

    Is some diurnal de-cluttering needed? I only ask because it may be so.

  5. Thank you for all your comments. Perhaps I’ll be a bit more careful what I say in future! The early rising is partly down to my being a lark rather than an owl; partly, I hope, because I’m serious about my vocation, and partly it is the inevitable consequence of twenty-first century monasticism, i.e. we have no inherited wealth/investments so have to work to pay the bills and fund our charitable outreach, which means being ‘available’ during normal office hours — and sometimes abnormal ones as well. Add to the normal working day, therefore, the monastic Office, service of other people, visitors and guests, the need to look after the house and grounds, do the paperwork associated with running a Registered Charity and a small Company, etc, etc and I think you’ll see why I like to get my ‘spirituals’ in early. HOWEVER, if God chooses to press my ‘snooze button’, so be it. zzzzzzz

  6. Thank you very much for this – I struggle with this particularly trying to do more than is required and look forward to hearing more in your further comments on St Benedict. God bless you.

  7. This monastic owl was shot out of a cannon this morning due to not re-setting my alarm for the weekday horarium….it did provide the luxury of not musing whether or not I could have 10 more minutes of snooze time. Benedict is so right that the sleepy like to make excuses….

  8. I just have to learn to be gentle with myself.

    Wonderful, this is the message I’m getting everywhere I turn, and in doing just this, I have today finally reached a peace that I haven’t felt in a long while.

    Thank you.

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