Dear families, students and staff,
I hope that you are well and that you are coping as best as you can during lockdown 2.0. Last week I wrote to you about the Benedictine Monastic Order’s emphasis on stability. This week I wish to further reflect on the Benedictine emphasis on balance and moderation in all things. It is quite remarkable that St Benedict’s short book, The Rule, written early in the 6th century for a few monastic small communities, has had and continues to have such a lasting relevance, not only in monasteries but also in churches, schools and in secular settings. Many scholars argue that the reason for the survival and continued relevance of The Rule is that it is short, deeply rooted in holy scripture and profoundly wise and practical.
Long before the 8-hour working day was introduced, St Benedict famously urged his community members to find a balance between nurturing the body, mind and spirit. To open oneself to God in all aspects of life, St Benedict stipulated a daily routine of four hours of communal prayer, four hours of study and six hours of manual labour. For the past 1600 years this daily routine has since characterised all Benedictine monasteries, also called ‘schools of life’, and it has inspired Anglican Grammar schools in their pursuit of instilling a balanced life between intellectual studies, sporting and creative pursuits and the worship of God.
With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the globe, our normal existence has been profoundly changed. The balance and routine we once might have had in our lives has now been significantly altered. With added daily screen time and the lockdown rules ordering us to stay at home, many of us find ourselves exhausted at the end of the day and some of us struggle to find an appropriate balance in our day-to-day lives. I know I do!
In such times the best thing for us to do, at least sometimes, is to accept how we feel and make room for those feelings. Perhaps we need more sleep than usual. Once our daily work or study is done, perhaps our search for balance may involve not doing anything at all. However, if this lockdown continues far into the future, we do need to find a new and balanced routine to keep us healthy in mind, body and spirit.
Personally, I think the challenge during this second lockdown is to carve out more time away from screens and then seek to implement a healthier, daily routine of life. The Benedictine division of labour, study and worship could inspire us to seek to divide our lockdown days into blocks that nurtures each part of our being. For example, upon waking and before we begin our working day, we could commit ourselves for one hour to either go for a short walk, run, bike ride, or practise yoga or Pilates and perhaps afterwards read a short section of the bible or another inspirational text. In that way our day begins in a centred, calm way where both the body, mind and spirit are stimulated and cared for. After a morning spent teaching or learning or being in meetings (all conducted via a screen), one could again spend a block of for example, half an hour to one hour for lunch and a walk. After a long day in and out of online classes or meetings at work we all need fresh air. With no after-school activities on offer at the moment, the temptation for many of our students will at this time be to play computer games or surf the internet rather than go for a walk. But why not create a block as a family where everyone who is at home goes for a walk, a run or a bike ride together. Having such a routine and sticking to it, no matter how exhausted we might feel, may create, not only a healthy physical habit, but also create a deeper intimacy and connection between those we live with. Furthermore, when dinner is finished and the dishes have been done, rather than turn the TV straight on, one could commit to at least spending half an hour or more laying down all electronic devices and perhaps light a candle, read a poem or a good novel, or journal, or meditate, draw or play music or one could simply just lie down, close the eyes and listen to some soothing music.
It is so important to begin and end our days as well as we can. All spiritual traditions have always taught that. In all Benedictine monasteries, for example, after dinner and evening prayer, the monks and nuns enter into what is called ‘the Grand Silence’. Everyone observes complete silence and no one speaks until after the morning service. In that way the day ends and begins with silence. While we may not choose to be completely silent each evening and each morning, the need to integrate periods of silence and avoid technological stimuli, can be very soothing for the mind, especially during this time where so much of our work is spent online.
If we do choose to integrate blocks of time each day where different parts of our being are nurtured, it is important to remember the Benedictine emphasis on not being too harsh on ourselves but instead seek moderation in all things. Sometimes we simply can’t fulfil our goals and do what we set out to do and that is ok. There is always a new day tomorrow and there is no need to beat oneself up for what we couldn’t do today. No matter what we achieve, the steps we take now to live a more spiritually wholesome way of life can potentially create routines which will last far beyond this lockdown; routines which will make us more centred, more resilient and hopefully a little more peaceful and joyful.
Rev’d Hans Christiansen