Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Boundary conditions

A few weeks ago my class on contemplation in the west looked at the floor plans of a series of monasteries dating from the 5th century through the 16th, and read several rules for monastics (beyond the iconic Rule of St. Benedict).  We talked about the ways in which the structures, physical and canonical, created boundaries.  Boundaries between work and prayer and recreation.  Boundaries between sacred and secular.  Boundaries between the silence and the noise of the world.

It's been making me think about the boundaries I set up in my own life, and the ways in which I sometimes let them be breached.  After far too many working evenings and weekends, I'm feeling like St. Anthony's bow:

A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him,
"Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it."
So he did. The old man then said,
"Shoot another,"
and he did so. Then the old man said,
"Shoot yet again,"
and the hunter replied,
"If I bend my bow so much I will break it."
Then the old man said to him,
"It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs."
When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened.

Could I find a way to stop pulling on the modern day equivalent of the bow - my work email - and meet some of my needs (like laundry!)?  So I set up a virtual cloister for my college email on my computers, a physical separation between the incoming arrows and the generally life-giving correspondence from the other corners of my life.  I suspended the app that checks my work mail on my iPad.  Will I, like the brethren, be strengthened? Let us pray...


  1. Michelle, this is a very edifying post. At times we all need to take stock and make certain that we are spending our time effectively and efficiently and more than that, that we are centred on our Lord. We all need to set up boundaries - oh so difficult for me to do! Thank you. Blessings and prayers.

  2. He does say "enjoying himself with the brethren" so if laundry is enjoyable....


    I have a table that I painted and on it I try to keep one small art project - a collage, a painting, a journal, something that I really enjoy. It's not a lot, but it is something. And days in which I visit that table, and spend a few moments, are really the best days. Also days with Scrabble. :)