It is strange how, in the past and perhaps even today, certain kinds of work are regarded as menial and the people who do them as inferior. I remember some sort of gathering at which a Swedish nun and I were introduced to someone as the monastery’s cooks. The person to whom we were introduced couldn’t move away quickly enough but seemed to think better of it once she learned more about our backgrounds. It was then our turn to be a little reserved.
St Benedict in his chapter on the monastery’s kitcheners (RB 35), which we begin re-reading today, not only assumes everyone who can will take their turn at cooking and serving but also that such service increases charity in a community and secures a richer reward for the individual. Our competence is secondary, though that can be difficult to accept. Even culinary disasters (I’ve perpetrated a few myself) can be an occasion of grace, not just Gaviscon.
Why do we think of some work as important and other work as inconsequential? I don’t know, but I have a hunch it has to do with our endless status-seeking. The boss of an organisation probably has the most expensive computer, even if he/she uses it least. It tells other people how important they are to the organization and reassures them that their status is assured. We all have to eat, so unless we are a celebrity cook, work in the kitchen attracts no kudos. Forgive me for being boring and predictable, but how many people are we relying on today to do work we couldn’t or wouldn’t do for ourselves? Let us be grateful for them.