Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 48, Reading is Work

In Chapter 48 of The Rule of St. Benedict Benedict turns to the issue of daily manual labor. He starts off with this:
1Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor and well as for prayerful reading.
What's interesting is how, here and throughout the chapter, Benedict describes reading as work, as a way to fend off idleness. Reading is considered to be a spiritual discipline. Benedict says that "the brothers ought to devote themselves to reading." Later Benedict connects reading to the observance of Lent:
15During this time of Lent each one is to receive a book from the library, and is to read the whole of it straight through.
To make sure the monks are doing their reading: "Two seniors must surely be deputed to make the rounds of the monastery while the brothers are reading. Their duty is to see that no brother is so apathetic as to waste time or engage in idle talk to neglect his reading..."

As a reader all I can say is A--freaking--men. Reading is work.

Personal pet peeve in this regard. To non-readers reading looks like idleness and not work. If you are reading you aren't doing anything. You're "just reading." This drives me crazy. For example, when people see you reading they feel free to interrupt you. Why? Because you're not doing anything, you're just reading.

But excuse me, reading is doing something. So when I'm reading you should leave me alone. I'm working here. Ask St. Benedict.

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14 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 48, Reading is Work”

  1. For the reading to be counted as work, would Benedict's title list be expansive enough to include vampire stories, 50 Shades of..., or Time Magazine? I have no doubt that Unclean would make the cut.

  2. Tell me about it. My eyes aren't horrible yet, but I've gone from a +1.00 to +1.25 to now a +1.50.

  3. That's a good point. I doubt Twilght would have been on the monk's reading list.

    BTW, I always liked Jacob over Edward...

  4. I wonder how much the view of "reading as idleness" ties into the so-called "extrovert ideal"? As an introvert, I find myself constantly interrupted when I'm doing anything OTHER than having a conversation or engaging with another human being. Oh, and of course thanks for another wonderful post, sir.

  5. I never noticed that, but I think you are right about the introvert/extrovert divide. I do think that, nine times out of ten, it's an extrovert interrupting an introvert who is reading.

  6. Yup. And at a land-grant school like Texas A&M, working in agriculture, putting my feet up on the desk to read a journal article or a textbook makes me really self-conscious about this. "When are you going to get off your @$$ and get to work like the rest of us?"

  7. At ACU it's a sort of administration/faculty divide. If I go outside to read a book on campus it looks like I'm loafing when everyone is rushing off to meetings and being "productive." You can see it the looks, "What's he doing? Reading a book! Typically faculty member slacking off."

  8. Are we being paranoid, or do they really think that?

    Back when you were posting about Malthus, I was studying "embedded energy" or "embodied energy" (see "EMergy" literature, H. T. Odum, 1996 etc.), which is a way of looking at the energy hierarchy and assigning relative quantitative value ("transformities") to energies of different kinds...INCLUDING human knowledge. Sunlight has a transformity of 1 sej/j as a reference quantity, natural gas has a transformity of maybe 50,000 sej/j, electricity higher still, and human labor something higher still. I suppose that banked knowledge increases the transformity of a person's labor. So reading increases your transformity, and reading deeply does so even more. FWIW.

  9. Sometimes I think it's paranoia, but for some of the business-types in administration I think it does look like loafing off to them.

  10. I start my reading between 3:00 and 3:30am. I love the quiet; I love the dawn; and I love to embrace the day before I or anyone else has a chance to mess it up. When I tell people what time I rise and what I do, with a puzzling stare they ask, "Just to read?" To which I usually respond, "If I was going hunting or fishing you wouldn't think it so odd. And If I was going into my job in order to advance myself, that would be understandable, wouldn't it?" "Yeah", they usually say with a shrug; "but to read?"

  11. I repent for all the rimes I've interrupted you, but man, you're reading all the time! :)

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