Idleness is the enemy of the soul. When I first read that opening sentence of Chapter 48 of the Rule of Benedict, I recognized my paraphrased internal maxim created long ago: Boredom is a cancer of the soul. As a Benedictine oblate, I read through the Rule three times per year. One would think that those fifteen- hundred- year-old words would become tedious. But my experience is occasionally, exactly the opposite of tedium. Like last week, while reading Chapter 48, the reading for July 28, 'On the Daily Manual Labor' when I noticed the emphasis placed on activities like reading, 'rest on the bed in perfect silence.' This time I took note of the next to last sentence: "Let all things be done with moderation..."
For much of my life, work has been where I found satisfaction to the point that workaholic could be a fitting adjective for anyone taking notice. The reason? Most likely there are many, but primarily the knowledge that our time here is finite, consequently my fear of wasting time, of not accomplishing all that I am capable of achieving. This is the reason that comments like John Cardinal Newman's , "Nothing worth doing can be accomplished in a single lifetime," were committed to memory long before I had any idea of becoming Catholic or of learning about men like Newman. The words conferred a sense of relief, almost a balm to the seemingly endless list of tasks looming before me.
A number of years ago, while I was still a Hospital Director in academic health care, my husband made a provocative statement about work: provocative to me anyway. His statement?
Work is anything you have to do: Anything at all that requires your attention.
We lived in a commuter house in northeast Connecticut where the lawn was larger than the house and I was regretting my poorly thought-out promise to mow it weekly, and sometimes twice a week during the rainy season, because I had a briefcase filled with documents which had to be signed, read or otherwise dispatched before the day began at 5am the next morning. The lawn seemed immense, a green football sized yard taunted me with the time it would take me to mow it - time I didn't think I had.
His statement was uttered casually, without emphasis; heedless of its echo in my head, I threw all of my considerable anxiety into pushing the lawnmower up and down, up and down.
This is work?
And if the circumstances of the place or their poverty
should require that they themselves
do the work of gathering the harvest,
let them not be discontented;
for then are they truly monastics
when they live by the labor of their hands,
as did our Fathers and the Apostles.
Let all things be done with moderation, however,
for the sake of the faint-hearted.