The Dies Non

Yesterday the community ground to a halt — by which I mean that, after all the sadness and sorrow of Holy Week and all the joyful alleluias of the Easter Octave, we had sung ourselves out, as it were, and needed to pause. Even Bro Dyfrig BFdeB lay flaked out in his man cave, barely able to wag a tail or stretch out his tongue for a treat (I exaggerate a trifle, perhaps). Even though we still have many thank-yous to write and business to attend to, I have invoked the only power worth having as prioress and declared today a Dies Non.

A Dies Non is one of the more useful monastic inventions. It means literally a day that isn’t. So we return to the time of our novitiate, when the only duties St Benedict lays on his novices are to eat, sleep and meditate — or, as we would say today, eat, sleep and pray (cf RB 58). That leaves us free to do whatever we find most relaxing or most neccessary.

People sometimes speak as though work were a problem, and overwork a particular difficulty of our age. That may be true for many, but I have a suspicion that leisure is even more of a challenge. We simply don’t know what to do with our time and feel we must always be filling it with busy-ness. The reasons are many and varied. We often seem to feel a need to justify ourselves, and we locate our value in what we do; or we have a horror of what we may find within if we allow ourselves to let go of all the usual props to our existence. I have known guests run away from the monastery before the end of their scheduled stay because they couldn’t cope with the silence or the demons that emerged from the depths when they tried to pray.

I confidently predict that our Dies Non will mean many little tasks around the monastery will get seen to because the community understands the difference between idleness and leisure and knows that the most important leisure-time of all is that which we spend in prayer — what St Bernard called otium negotissimum or very busy/active leisure. Something to think about, perhaps, even if you are very busy today?

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Two Hairy Brothers: 1

Bro Dyfrig BFdeB asks advice
Bro Dyfrig BFdeB asks advice

Howton Grove Priory
Herefordshire
14 August 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

Here I am at the monastery, all shiny and new-looking. Thank you for your good advice and encouragement. I know you thought long and hard about my future and where I’d become my Truest and Happiest Self.

I spent a few days in the guest quarters, as required by the Rule, but on Sunday, the Solemnity of the Assumption, I was admitted to the novitiate and given the name Bro Dyfrig BFdeB. There was a nice little ceremony and a piece of chicken afterwards by way of celebration. I have a pleasant bunk on the ground floor. The bed is comfy, and the water-bowl is a Treasured Relic of yours which, I must say, is rather splendid. Life is austere, but not too bad for an adaptable fellow like me.

I thought at first they would welcome my leadership skills, but apparently not. Here I trot through doors last; and when I attempted to rest my weary limbs on the guest sofa, I was very quickly shown the error of my ways! Do be a kind chap, and give me a few pointers about how to survive and flourish in the cloister.

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

P.S. I haven’t been allowed into choir yet. Something about ‘wait and see how he gets on.’

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond
15 August 2016

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

How nice to be able to call you that at last! I am delighted to know you are safely admitted to the novitiate. It took some organizing at HQ, I can tell you, what with St Thomas Aquinas in a huff about dogs going to heaven and St Jerome urging pet lions and St Francis wanting a whole menagerie of all kinds of beasts and birds. Thankfully, St Clare argued in favour of a single hound (you), then St Bernard helped out by recalling how he encouraged lots of his relatives to join Cîteaux and BigSis is rather a fan of his, while St Benedict just smiled a wise smile and had a quiet word with Our Lady. I think Our Lady has a soft spot for dogs. At any rate, after St Benedict spoke to her, there was a little bit of Private Conversation between her and her Son and, lo and behold, there you are!

The best advice I can give you is to follow what is written in the Rule regarding novices — eat, sleep and meditate. If you eat, They will know you are happy; if you sleep, They will know you have found the place you are meant to be; and if you meditate, you will have something to share with Them and Their followers. It’s easy-peasy really.

Of course, some things will be hard, especially at the beginning. I was always a gentleman, so allowing ladies first came naturally to me. You will just have to learn not to rush forward all the time — and choosing the highest, comfiest seat is a definite no-no. Human Beans worry and fret about silly things like status and want to demonstrate how grand they are by the things they possess or by being given a higher place at table or a ‘superior’ rank or title. You don’t have to worry about any of that. You’re a dog; your place in the Kingdom is assured. All you have to do is be the best dog you can, which means being yourself and giving glory to God just as you are.

As for the rest, you’ll find They talk a lot about perseverance in the novitiate, but I think it all boils down to sheer doggedness — and you have that in spades.

I shall be keeping an eye on you, young sprog. Don’t let me down.

Your affectionate old cousin,

Bro Duncan PBGV

P.S. Don’t worry about choir just yet. Concentrate on the basics, one for each paw — eat, sleep, meditate, and eat again, of course. That chicken is a good sign: make the most of it. It won’t happen often, believe me.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Further Thoughts on Vocation

Today we read the second half of RB 58. When describing the ritual of profession, Benedict makes a telling change. The newcomer to monastic life who has hitherto been nameless, just quis veniens, suddenly belongs. He becomes novitius frater, the new brother. All at once he becomes an integral part of the community, joined for ever to the fraterna acies, the fraternal battle-rank. This membership, however, comes at the end of a long and testing process. Today, it takes at least five and a half years for a woman to reach solemn profession, and even then, most would agree it is only another kind of beginning.

Why insist upon this? I think it is worth noting, in a world which expects instant results, that the things of the Spirit cannot be rushed. What we call a vocation is an ongoing call from the Lord as individual as the person to whom it is addressed. It is we ourselves who are called, we ourselves who respond; so that we can say that we are ourselves the vocation. Membership of the community represents a commitment on both sides, not to be lightly undertaken. Some people come to the monastery in search of community. Very often they leave disappointed because they do not find what they seek. Other people do not seem as cherishing as they ought to be! Only a few discover that the person who seeks community must first be prepared to create community, and monastic community can only be created when the members are united in the search for God. In other words, God has to be at the centre of everything. Anything less will not do.

If you read through the second half of RB 58, you will be struck (I hope) by the radical nature of the renunciations the monk or nun must make and the fact that Benedict constantly reminds us that what we call profession of vows takes place in the presence of God and his saints. Our vow chart is placed on the altar. We are dressed in the clothing of the monastery. Whatever we formerly owned or might expect to inherit in the future is gone from us. Even our bodies and wills are no longer at our own disposal. We have become a new creation and it is as a new creation, utterly possessionless, that we are admitted to the monastic community where we will live ‘according to the judgement and decision of another’.

I think it may be this stripping away of everything familiar which many find difficult. We rely on such silly things to give us status: our background, our education, our ability to say we are this or that in such and such an organization. The truth is we are unique, but it is the uniqueness conferred by God that we have to discover and value. Monasteries are good places for doing exactly that.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail