The Daily Manual Labor
On Sunday all are to be engaged in reading except those who have been assigned various duties. If any are so remiss and indolent that they are unwilling or unable to study or to read, they are to be given some work in order that they may not be idle.
Those who are sick or weak should be given a type of work or craft that will keep them busy without overwhelming them or driving them away. The prioress or abbot must take their infirmities into account.
A midrash on Genesis reads: "Weeds spring up and thrive; but to get wheat how much toil we must endure." The Rule of Benedict treats work and lectio interchangeably. One focuses the skills of the body on the task of co-creation. The other focuses the gifts of the mind on the lessons of the heart. One without the other is not Benedictine spirituality. To get the wheat of life we need to work at planting as well as reaping, at reaping as well as planting. And everyone in the community is expected to do both. For those for whom study is an impossible burden, then physical labor is allowed to suffice for both but never is the Benedictine mind to be left simply awash in idle emptiness. Even the sick and the weak are to be given simple tasks that upbuild the house of God because, Benedict knows, no matter how frail, no matter how old, no one is useless; everyone of us is given a gift to give and a task to fulfill. At every stage of our lives, everyone of us has a sign of hope and faith and love and commitment to share with the people around us. Sometimes, perhaps, it is precisely when we feel that we have least to give that our gifts are needed most. The sight of a grandmother in a garden or an uncle on a lawn mower, an old monastic tatting lace or a crippled young man lurching stiffly to the office may be just what the rest of us need to begin again down our healthy but tiresome paths.