The Benedictine Order of the day is a model for mindfulness

by DRM

An essential step forward is the development of a fitting order of the day: a division of the day that gives a rhythm to the day, with a reasonably fixed pattern of exertion and relaxation, of spiritual breathing in and breathing out, of ordering one’s environment and moments when one is in touch with something beautiful.”
The Rule of Benedict for Beginners, by Wil Derkse

The Bendectines call it the Order of the day: a sequence of prayers designed to connect the passage of the hours to the divine state of existence. Within this order, the monks are able to access the beauty of their faith.

When I was young, some afternoons I would cross the fields and walk up the hill to the church, breaking a sweat to arrive before the monks gathered for Compline. This was the simplest hour of the day: a quartet of psalms repeated in plainsong each day. It was sung at dusk, when the sun was retiring from the sky.

The monks shuffled in silently from the back of the chancel. They were obscured by the faint light spilling in through the high stained glass windows. Each of them had an individual identity for me: the monk who taught us flute, or the monk who would hand out treats at the back kitchen door, the one who gardened daily. Together identity was sublimated to the work of the group: prayer, understanding and veneration.

I knew that they didn’t speak during the day in the monastery. One of the monks would read to the group during dinner and they would have some common discussion in the short spell after dinner, but their other hours were spent in silence or service.

The muffled sounds overwhelmed me. I waited for the silence to break from confusion. A soft melody would seep from the darkness. A quivering, decisive voice would lead the community into song.

They were not beautiful in a musical way. The range was limited, and some strong voices lacked variety. What made the service beautiful was its regularity, its practiced flow. I could not understand the words. In the chant, I searched for a spiritual connection that eluded me. Today, I realize that I yearned for the “fitting order” that structured their lives. I sensed that it might be a path to quieting the mind.

When I read about the Benedictine order of the hours, I contrast it with the helter-skelter irregularness of my day-to-day. To lead a practiced, mindful and orderly life in such circumstances is a challenge that I feel, creating an absence that I rue.