Strange as it may seem, it is the hour of Recreation that becomes vital to the success of our Divine Office.
How we spend those hours that we allow of leisure, companionship, and simple pleasures will speak volumes of our monastic lives, and those minutes, flowing into days and years, can make or break us here in Cor Unum Abbey.
If it were as easily done as said, we would mention that the very best Recreation is the one that gives back in some way, and the worst is the time that is quickly gone and without any return, time that cannot be retrieved that has given nothing and taken much. For us, time spent in leisurely pursuits and in socializing is precious; we don’t want to waste a drop.
My father-in-law used to harp, or so I thought, on the evils of a wasted day. “You’ll never get that day back,” he would say, “always work hard, don’t slack, and never take a day off.” Really! That was his favorite hobby horse. It wasn’t difficult to see from whence came my husband’s superior work ethic!
“But vacations and leisure time are days well-spent, too,” I would argue, and now I wish I hadn’t. It wasn’t that what I said wasn’t true, but I realize today that I never really and fully acknowledged the wisdom of his words, the import of what he was trying to say. “Work while you’re at work! Don’t start making excuses to goof off when you have a job to do. Don’t jump at every chance to stay away.” There is room for that philosophy in the Abbey.
How I would love to have back just one half, just one quarter, of the time I’ve frittered away in my life! How I wish I could tell him, “I do understand what you were saying, and now I’m trying to live it out.”
We do have and always will have time for fellowship and time to recuperate from work and stress. For some of us – for most of us, at least on occasion – the problem is more often a need to recuperate from our lethargies.
Monastic “Recreation” is very much a renewing of our peace and joy, an opportunity to remember how much more important we are to the Lord than our busy-ness. However, when in monastic life our work becomes a devotion of prayer and praise, we know we are involved in something critically valuable. It needn’t be cluttered, but it may become intensely time-consuming and non-negotiable.
This part of our Divine Office is very, very personal and will require utmost honesty of heart. This alone makes it worthwhile to us. One of us might watch a particular television show one evening and come away revived in the Lord. Another might read a few chapters of a favorite book to the same end. Still another might cancel their satellite service and never look back.
Here is a great place for a perennial reminder … we ourselves are the Abbesses of our cloistered lives. Only by the guidance of the Holy Spirit can we know how much is too much in what we allow; only in the Lord will we have the grace to see some things, like recreational shopping and too many club meetings, put aside, and forever. Our choices are personal, and the Lord, the Holy Spirit, will ever show us when and where we have robbed the altar of our own devotion. That is where we make changes as we go along.
We ought also to be keenly aware that it is easier to head a corporation, work in a hospital, or run a bakery than to be given to prayer and intercession, stillness and worship. Were that not so, there would be more nuns than nurses! If you have traded your career to start heading in a decidedly devoted direction, you already know how true that is. Nevertheless, almost all of us will need to have dinner out occasionally and keep up with a few friends, perhaps even a few television shows, a little gardening, a gym membership. You will know, if yours is a truly monastic heart, when Recreation has become Dissipation. A warning: as you go along, more and more of what was once innocent diversion will probably begin to seem extraneous and haphazard, wasteful. As you go along, deal with those things in perfect candor with the Lord. By the time you need to cut back, you’ll be ready, and you will know. Deep down, your favorite reality show won’t matter that much anymore. Truly, we live inside a reality that touches upon every kind of drama known to man.
A little more on this subject of Recreation next time, and we’ll take a look into a cloistered Recreational hour. Meanwhile, I leave you with this encouragement: as we do begin to set aside the things that have been taking so much and giving so little into our lives, delights and pleasures of peaceableness will take their place. Of those things to which my father-in-law referred, habits and slipshod ways that make the value of a day or an hour something lost and never to be found, we confess that we’ve all entertained them. In Christ we will redeem the time, here in this lovely monastery of the heart.
by Claude Monet, public domain, 1875