{Praciticing Benedict} The Sacred Vessels of the Altar

{Praciticing Benedict} The Sacred Vessels of the Altar February 8, 2012

“All the utensils of the monastery and in fact everything that belongs to the monastery should be cared for as though they were the sacred vessels of the altar…” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 31).

If we aim to live as monks, then what else is our home but the monastery? Full of people encountering Jesus in the sacred places: the hallways, the gathering places, the altar. Home is holy: prayer moving through it all day like monks strolling (their vestments trailing) to the stone chapel.

Last year I posted a ancient Celtic prayer I’d discovered in one of my favorite prayer books: The Celtic Way of Prayer (by Esther de Waal). It’s a prayer women would say over their homes before bed: a prayer of protection and blessing for the woman’s husband and children. She would stir the hearth, the heart (and heat and stove) of the home, and make a prayerful mark of the Trinity in those embers. She would pray:

The sacred Three
To save
To shield,
To surround
The hearth,
The house,
The household,
This eve,
This night,
Oh! this eve
This night,
And every night,
Each single night.
Amen (47-48).

My hearth is the stove, where I stand night after night, stirring whatever fresh thing I have chopped. Where I glance back at the baby crawling in pursuit of more cat food, where I leave the food sizzling while I pull the cat food from my baby’s mouth. It is where my boys will probably remember me when they think back to what our life was in their early years: their mother at the stove, NPR on the radio, all that chopping, all that rhythm and ritual and movement.

The utensils of the monastery should be cared for as if they were vessels on the altar.

That pan I wash every night.
That sharp knife that glides through the garlic.
Those sippy cups. Those plates. Those lovely cloth napkins with the daisies.

All of it on the altar.

There is a sweet holiness in this daily life full of earth-bound needs and earth-bound rituals: the feeding of children, the clothing, the brushing of teeth and hair, the reminders to go potty, the books read and savored under covers, the picking up of toys and the getting out of toys, the hugs and songs and poems whispered in the dark. Sometimes the earthen vessels are the most sacred.

Today, may we gather at the hearth of our homes, in the morning over the scrambled eggs, and may we hold our spatulas with the secret knowledge of their sacred use.

We are priests, my friends.

Let us scramble those eggs. Then may we lift the chalice to the parched lips of those who wait for God’s good gifts.

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