Monastic routines as a pattern for spiritual formation

Suffering from AD(H)D, I have discovered that if I have a routine that I can follow every day, I can get things done and be productive. The difficulty is to order my life each day to develop that routine. I talked with a lady today whose son has ADD. We were talking about the idea of a routine and she told me that the periods of time when her son has the most difficulties is during breaks in school. Periods of time like spring break, Christmas break, etc. breaks his routine and creates a more distracted person.

Generations of kids are growing up with a distracted mind. I would even bet that many adults live with the same distractions. We need a routine. It works for newborns and young kids and works for adults, especially young adults distracted by life.

Monastic practices provide the structure that helps us develop routines. Take for instance St. Benedict’s monastic routine.

Traditionally, the daily life of the Benedictine revolved around the eight canonical hours. The monastic timetable or Horarium would begin at midnight with the service, or “office”, of Matins (today also called the Office of Readings), followed by the morning office of Lauds at 3am. Before the advent of wax candles in the 14th century, this office was said in the dark or with minimal lighting; and monks were expected to memorize everything. These services could be very long, sometimes lasting till dawn, but usually consisted of a chant, three antiphons, three psalms, and three lessons, along with celebrations of any local saints’ days. Afterwards the monks would retire for a few hours of sleep and then rise at 6am to wash and attend the office of Prime. They then gathered in Chapter to receive instructions for the day and to attend to any judicial business. Then came private Mass or spiritual reading or work until 9am when the office of Terce was said, and then High Mass. At noon came the office of Sext and the midday meal. After a brief period of communal recreation, the monk could retire to rest until the office of None at 3pm. This was followed by farming and housekeeping work until after twilight, the evening prayer of Vespers at 6pm, then the night prayer of Compline at 9pm, and off to blessed bed before beginning the cycle again. In modern times, this timetable is often changed to accommodate any apostolate outside the monastic enclosure (e.g. the running of a school or parish). (Wikipedia contributors, “Rule of Saint Benedict,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed March 31, 2011).)

This pattern was an extended pattern of the early church, who would pray at set times during the day following the Jewish pattern found in the Old Testament illustrated by the prophet Daniel. These routines not only ordered life but ordered life around a real encounter with God.

While I would not go so far as develop eight hours, it might be appropriate to follow the pattern set by the early church. Prayer in the morning, prayer at noontime, prayer in the late afternoon around supper, and prayer before retiring for sleep. In addition to prayer, there would be the readings of scripture and, using Psalms, they would pray scripture.

Why are routines important? Routines form habits that become part of the behavior of a person. It becomes part of who they are. When a person orders his or her day around an encounter with God through prayer and the reading of scripture, the scripture and the relationship become part of the person. They begin to become part of the identity of the person. They define the person. Yes, it is a routine and often those are not effective. We often think of them as boring. But this is a routine of relationship, a routine whereby God exposes more of himself to us and we expose more of ourself to him. In doing so, the transparency between us becomes greater and greater and the relationship grows deeper and deeper.

Consider these questions for the rest of the week:
1. What routines do I have that allow me to enter into a relationship with God, Jesus and the Spirit consistently?
2. Who or what do I order my day around? Is it work? Is it family? Is it listening to God through His Word?

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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