February 28, June 29, October 29
Chapter 22: How the Sisters Are to Sleep
Let each one sleep in a separate bed.
Let them receive bedding suitable to their manner of life,
according to the Abbess’s directions.
If possible let all sleep in one place;
but if the number does not allow this,
let them take their rest by tens or twenties
with the seniors who have charge of them.
A candle shall be kept burning in the room until morning.
Let them sleep clothed and girded with belts or cords —
but not with their knives at their sides,
lest they cut themselves in their sleep —
and thus be always ready to rise without delay
when the signal is given
and hasten to be before one another at the Work of God,
yet with all gravity and decorum.
The younger shall not have beds next to one another,
but among those of the older ones.
When they rise for the Work of God
let them gently encourage one another,
that the drowsy may have no excuse.
As I read the bit about sleeping in separate beds, I can only think that there must have been monastic communities before Benedict where the monastics shared beds, whether due to a lack of beds and bedding, to keep warm at night. But I personally welcome the idea of a separate bed because just think of it… living, praying, working side by side with people all day long and then having to share a bed. At least Benedict gives people the privacy of their own personal bed and adequate bedding.
Benedict also envisioned monastics sleeping in one room. Although later on, he talks about monks making inventories at some point during Lent of the items in their cells. So it is possible that even within Benedict’s own lifetime, individual cells came to be preferred over the common dormitory.
Monastics are to sleep fully dressed, ready to hop out of bed at a moment’s notice, ready to pray. Love the touch about not eating with their knives lest they cut themselves in their sleep. This is, of course, long before the invention of flatware, forks, etc., everyone owned an eating knife which was also used for other purposes whenever they needed to cut something.
The younger are not to have beds next to each other because they might talk to each other instead of going to sleep. When all the monks get up to go and pray, they are to be gentle with each other, making sure each is awake. Benedict doesn’t want any yawning during prayers.
I am grateful every day for my comfortable bed but I am not one to greet the morning with gracious acceptance. I need my tea to complete the waking up process. I know many others who need their morning coffee. Trying to treat my body gently and with respect, I allow myself to drink tea during my morning prayers. I brew a strong pot of tea, refreshing my cup as needed. Benedict would be appalled, but I really don’t have a sense that God objects. In fact, I think God chuckles at me every single morning. Which is a lovely way to start the day.