We often hear the counsel to “begin the day with God.” And that is good advice. But Benedict knew that “ending the day with God” is equally important. In Chapter 42, he described ways for doing that.
Some of the details speak for themselves, and the practices enable the monks to bring their day to a proper conclusion. But in this posting, I want to note two things.
First, Benedict does not permit readings from the first seven books of the Old Testament or the two books of Kings. I had to do a little research in order to have an idea as to why he did not permit readings from these parts of the Bible. But what I found out is not only interesting; I believe it’s significant.
Apparently, he did not want the final thoughts of the day to be in relation to violence. He believed that the stories found in these nine books would leave the minds of the monks in the wrong place. It seems that he believed that our ideas continue to “work on us” while we sleep, so we need to take good thoughts into our subconscious rest.
We only need raise the question about “late night television” to wonder if we are putting the wrong things into our minds at the wrong times. What if our spiritual formation continues as we sleep? What if what we deposit in our minds before bedtime has a formative influence in our subconscious?
The second lesson comes from Benedict’s strict requirement that silence be kept after Compline. Silence not only has to do with insuring quietness around the monastery; it is about establishing receptive reflection in the lives of the monks.
The day is passed, and even though a lot of the daily pattern has established the rhythm of working and resting—speaking and listening—there still needs to be a prolonged period when all that the monks have taken in finds its “resting place” in the mind and heart. There still needs to be time for things to “settle in” and for God to order the day’s experiences so that they provide us with guidance and wisdom.
The Rule of Benedict seems “ancient,” but it may be more up-to-date than our contemporary bedtime customs. If the mind “feeds” on the last things put into it, and if the spirit is shaped by the final messages it receives, then how we end our day matters a lot. Perhaps our restlessness and sleeplessness is a form of spiritual “indigestion.”