Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading.
St. Benedict (2011-04-30). The Rule of St. Benedict (Kindle Locations 707-708). PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition.
I’ve often wondered what “free time” was like in the ancient or medieval world. When I was a teenager, and many times since, I have heard people guilt-trip Christians by asking them to compare the time they watch tv with the time they read the Bible. I wonder if such a question fails to take changes in culture into consideration. I am certainly in favor of reading the Bible more. But I don’t know if the hours we spend watching tv, or other things, instead of reading the Bible constitutes automatic laziness.
There are so many devices which make our lives easier, from stoves and microwaves to cars and refrigerators. I believe that before all these things were invented people spent a lot more time traveling from place to place and finding and preparing food. One result of these devices, I would think, is that we have more “free” time. We tend to fill that time with entertainment, primarily television (or if you’e like the college students I know, binging on youtube videos). Of course there was entertainment in the ancient and medieval world, from gladiatorial contests to stage plays to bear-baiting. But I find it hard not to believe that our amount of free time dwarfs theirs.
I am trying to write very tentatively, with lots of “I imagines” or “I believes”. As I have thought about what Benedict said, and guilt-trips I’ve heard about people being too lazy and not reading the Bible enough, I’ve wondered how a day in the life of a 21st century Christian compares to one in the 12th or 4th century. There are lots of history books on the big issues of Christian history, from the Arian controversy in the 300s to the crusades in the 1100s. If anyone out there knows of a book that tells the story of how normal, everyday Christians lived in these eras, I’d love to read it.
Back to The Rule of Benedict, the questions I am left with from this passage are:
What does balancing life between work and spiritual reading, between doing our physical labor and daily jobs and pursuing spiritual growth, look like when we have more free time? Should we go right from work to dinner to hours of what Benedict calls “devout reading”? Is watching one hour of tv too much? Five hours? When have we gone from just relaxing to being lazy?
I am sure, at the very least, that many people would benefit from turning the television off and reading a book instead (says a huge book lover!).