Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 41, The Grind

In Chapter 41 of The Rule of St. Benedict--"The Times for the Brother's Meals"--we read about how the Abbot should set mealtimes throughout the year. Sometimes the meal is adjusted around work in the summer. Sometimes it is adjusted around available daylight in the summer ("Let Vespers be celebrated early enough so that there is no need for a lamp while eating"). And sometimes meals are shifted (and fasting encouraged) depending upon where you are in the liturgical year.

In every season the Abbot is making these decisions to create a healthy atmosphere. And Benedict describes the goal of all this in an interesting way:
5[The Abbot] should so regulate and arrange all matters that souls may be saved and the brothers may go about their activities without justifiable grumbling.
Simply from a leadership perspective this is interesting. Certain aspects of leadership should be invisible. The Abbot is to so arrange the day that those arrangements don't become the focus. They simply support and facilitate the work.

But from a spiritual perspective what is interesting is how Benedict describes the setting of mealtimes as something that might save souls. Really? Eating lunch at noon or mid-afternoon can save souls?

In psychology there is research on what are called "hassles." We tend to think that emotional well-being is mainly affected by major life events, the big bad things that can happen to us. Job loss, divorce, bereavement. But research has found that small daily hassles, particularly if they accumulate, can be just as powerful a predictor of well-being. For example, a long, grinding commute doesn't seem to be a life tragedy. But day after day that commute can grind you down, dramatically affecting your emotional health. Chronic work stress has the same effect. Which is why, after all, we call it "the grind." It's a million little things and no one big thing that wears us down. If you look back at your last bad day odds are it wasn't bad because you got bad news. It was bad because the hassles started early and never let up. Car wouldn't start. You forgot an appointment. Computer wouldn't boot. Printer is out of ink. Kids need something for a school project due tomorrow. You lock your keys in the car. You broke your favorite coffee mug. There's a long line at the store. You got to work but realized you left something you needed back home. You forgot your phone charger. You lost a contact lens.

Little things are little, but they are important.

So Benedict says to the Abbots: pay attention to the little things. Little things are spiritually important. Souls might we saved or lost depending upon the grind of those little things.

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5 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 41, The Grind”

  1. Id never thought of this before but you are so right. Sometimes just thinking about a phone call (and putting it off) that I need to make can bug me all day.

  2. For me it's putting off emails. My Inbox really, really wears me down.

  3. What does it mean as far as the soul being saved? Saved from stress?

  4. In my job I deal with a lot of people, and there are certain ones that have a way of showing up, wanting to talk just at the time when I need to start a project ,or finish one. Later I wonder if I gave them enough time and attention, was my impatience noticeable, did I let them down? That is when I usually remember that there were times in my past when I was someones "little pest";...maybe, still am.

  5. Thank you for this blog. Just have found it, and I very much like the posts. Appreciate

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