I love being read to by our prioress. It is a Lenten custom in our house that we keep silence until after breakfast. While we eat our prioress, Sister Cecilia, reads to us from a worthy book. Actually, she often finishes one and starts another during the "40 Days."
This is an ancient monastic practice - for centuries Benedictines ate every meal in total silence. I am rather glad that we have both holy conversation and profound times of silence. Yet, I find myself wishing at the end of Lent, that this intimate sharing of a good word might continue. But, the Easter season will demand joyful voices and glad hearts.
There are many things about "table reading" that appeal to me. First, I feel a child-like wonder come over me as Sister reads to us. Every warm memory of being read to - and those that are so early they remain beyond my reach - seem to surface in a general feeling of safety and peace. I remember what it felt like to be held close to my Mother's heart as we turned pages together. The act of reading aloud to someone is, primarily, an act of love.
Table reading, as a monastic practice, enables contemplation. Michael Casey,OCSO, suggests that reading, in general, has primacy in the Benedictine life (see: Strangers to the City.) Whether we hold the book or "listen with the ear of [our] heart," we are completely attentive to the present moment. Reading takes us out of ourselves - beyond past hurts, memories that preoccupy and worries of the future - and holds us to the now where GOD dwells.
When the prioress reads to us, we all hear the same thing. I like the thought that throughout the day our individual meditations might move in a common direction. I believe GOD can use this opportunity to move our hearts. I suspect it is the Spirit who really selects the book. (Being prioress comes with so many graces. I believe there is little decided or done without prayer.)
When we are eating in silence together, it fascinates me how attentive we are to the noise we make. (Some mornings the sound of silverware being dropped into the "dirty" bucket, can be a bit much!) Lenten silence makes us each more aware of how we move our chairs and stack our dishes. All in all, table-reading is one of my favorite customs. Is there someone in your life you love enough to read to? I'll bet there is...
Blessings and love,
- Sister Vicki