When guests arrive at our monastery the first thing they are shown is a timetable. This may seem odd. It may remind them of school, the army, or worse, but in fact it is a key to the monastic life, and any stay within the monastic enclosure will benefit from it.
Timetables bring order to our lives. The monastic timetable tells when the services are, when the meals are and therefore where free time, or time for prayer can be found. Services and meals are of equal importance. Monks and nuns have a long day and work hard but they don’t suffer from stress or burn out. That is because their day is well ordered. They don’t miss meals. Meals are at the same time every day which means they get properly digested. We know when we will be praying so we can be ready for it, and the spaces between meals and prayer can be allocated to work, reading or recreation as it suits us.
The Coronavirus has brought much evil into our lives and all of us have had to change our life styles. Living under lock down, living in close company with others requires structures. An abbot once told me, “Structures do not give life, but they save life.’ Anyone who has lived at close quarters even with beloved children will know the truth of that!
Sensible structures do not limit our freedom but create true freedom. It is because of our monastic structures that we remain healthy, live long and find plenty of time to do what we think God wants us to do.
Some Christians are misled by the modern need to be ‘spontaneous’, to be ‘sincere’ to think that structured prayer and life are false and lack real meaning. This is not true. We can’t always be inventing new prayers, new ways of praying or new insights into the love of God. The old ones are there and they do very well. The Lord’s Prayer is simple, structured and very old, yet it never ceases to yield new meaning. We can’t only pray when we feel like it. We pray because God wants us to pray. God wants to have a chance, lots of chances, to show his love for us. And we want to show God that we love him.
Having set times to pray, to read the Bible, to read a devotional book or even to talk to a friend about Christian life helps us to grow in this Christian life that we so much value. Covid-19 is a hard thing to live with. Some people have compared it to war. It is a battle, physically to stay alive, mentally not to get frustrated or despairing and spiritually not to give up hope.
We need to be tough; we need to grow in self knowledge and in trust of God. We are like soldiers preparing for war, or athletes preparing for a competition. Timetables give God the chance to make us into people who can meet this current crisis and flourish.
We are very grateful to Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR for sharing these wise words. Fr Nicholas is a member of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.