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?