Kitchen Servers of the Week
The members should serve one another. Consequently, no members will be excused from kitchen service unless they are sick or engaged in some important business of the monastery, for such service increases reward and fosters love. Let those who are not strong have help so that they may serve without distress, and let everyone receive help as the size of the community or local conditions warrant. If the community is rather large, the cellarer should be excused from kitchen service, and, as we have said, those should also be excused who are engaged in important business. Let all the rest serve one another in love.
Benedict leaves very little to the imagination or fancy of the spiritually pretentious who know everything there is to know about spiritual theory and think that is enough. Benedict says that the spiritual life is not simply what we think about; it is what we do because of what we think. It is possible, in fact, to spend our whole lives thinking about the spiritual life and never develop one. We can study church history forever and never become holier for the doing. There are theology courses all over the world that have nothing whatsoever to do with the spiritual life. In the same way, we may think we are a community or assume we are a family but if we do not serve one another we are, at best, a collection of people who live alone together.
So, Benedict chooses the family meal to demonstrate that point of life where the Eucharist becomes alive for us outside of chapel. It is in kitchen service that we prepare good things for the ones we love, and sustain them and clean up after them. It was woman's work and Roman men were told to do it so that they, too, with their own hands and over their own hot fires could know what it takes to spend their own lives to give life to the other.
On Saturday the ones who are completing (the kitchen) work will do the washing. They are to wash the towels which the members use to wipe their hands and feet. Both the one who is ending service and the one who is about to begin are to wash the feet of everyone. The utensils required for the kitchen service are to be washed and returned intact to the cellarer, who in turn issues them to the one beginning the next week. In this way the cellarer will know what is handed out and what is received back.
Community love and accountability are focused, demonstrated and modeled at the community meal. In every other thing we do, more private in scope, more personal in process, our private agendas so easily nibble away at the transcendent purpose of the work that there is often little left of the philosophical meaning of the task except our own translation of it. In the Middle Ages, the tale goes, a traveler asked three hard-at-work stone masons what they were doing. The first said, "I am sanding down this block of marble." The second said, "I am preparing a foundation." The third said, "I am building a Cathedral." Remembering the greater cause of why we are doing what we do is one of life's more demanding difficulties. But that's not the case in a kitchen, or in a dining room that is shaped around the icon of the Last Supper where the One who is first washes the feet of the ones who are to follow. "Do you know what I have just done," the Scripture reads. "As I have done, so you must do."
In Benedict's dining room, where everyone serves and everyone washes feet and everyone returns the utensils clean and intact for the next person's use, love and accountability become the fulcrum of community life.