Eat a common meal.
St. Albert instructs the brothers that they are to each live in a separate cell (chapter 6), “However, you are to eat whatever may have been given to you in a common refectory.” This gathering together around a common meal is what makes community and family different from a collection of people with similar interests living in an apartment complex or condominiums. If we sit in our rooms and have our own private meals, we would not see each other very often; or even if we shared a common kitchen and pantry, coming to grab food whenever we felt like eating. A household coming together at regular times is the foundation of unity that builds our relationships with one another and keeps us from so easily drifting away.
“However, you are to eat whatever may be given you in a common refectory, listening together meanwhile to a reading from Holy Scripture, where that can be done without difficulty.”--The Rule, Chapter 7
This chapter does seem out of place. What are we to do with the “however,” clause which has absolutely nothing to do with the preceding chapter on the establishment of a “separate cell”? Or, if we take a moment to pause, does it actually relate to the brothers having separate cells? Is the Rule, not Albert since this chapter is part of the mitigation that came after the Order’s move to Europe, suggesting that while the brothers are to each have a separate cell, in which they spend most of their time at or in, they are not to eat their meals in their individual cells? Is the Rule, by its placement saying: You will have your own dwelling, ‘however,’ you will come together to join in a common meal, and you will eat common food while listening to the common Word? If so, then is this a profound chapter on the source of unity and understanding of community; that we are brought together at the Table where one meal is served and one Voice proclaimed?
Provide each person a separate “cell” according to the layout and provisions of your home.
This provision is one of the adaptations that requires little explanation: Provide each person a separate cell according to the layout and provisions of your home. For many of us, a separate room is not a possibility. There are many families for whom even older children must share a room and it can be good, to a certain age, for children to actually share a common room--this does develop social skills, a stronger family identity and understanding of sharing that can be undermined by having private bedrooms--but family development and child psychology is not our topic here. For the most part, people have separate rooms whenever possible understanding also that in marriage, a husband and wife have been united in one, sacramentally and authentically in their being, and so their room is truly a private cell. This provision is not intended to offer even the slightest suggestion that husbands and wives should have separate rooms, but that it is good and appropriate for parents to have a separate room from heir children--also understanding the special care and place that infants have in the family. This here gives us a good place to remember that common sense is always the best guide and the the Rule and Adaptations is not a strict law to obeyed according to every letter, but is a guide and direction for a way of life that leads to Christ. It is the ideas and the meaning behind the provisions that will lead us toward Him. If then, most people already have a separate room if they are able to and this provision is rather simple and self-explanatory, why does it need to be included? Why does it need any further explanation? It remains important that we neither forget the importance of having a private cell to this Way of Life, nor to neglect our responsibilities to the members of our families and those we serve.
Sleep in a room dedicated to intimacy and holiness.
Here may begin some of the provisions of The Rule that seem utterly foreign and alien to day-to-day life outside of the Order: “each one of you is to have a separate cell.” Is it a rule of life that each family member should have his or her own bedroom? Am I suggesting that even parents, not only have separate beds resembling 1950s television shows, but sleep in altogether different rooms? And what of single people who already rent or own a private apartment or home, and are already enjoying a two or three bedroom cell? Is the Rule encouraging us into isolation and a luxurious way of living in grandiose homes and apartments? Rather than taking the Rule according to its literal meaning, let’s take a brief moment to consider what the cell is in the tradition of the monastery and what it provides to the life of the brothers and sisters.
"Next, each one of you is to have a separate cell, situated as the lie of the land you propose to
occupy may dictate, and allotted by disposition of the Prior with the agreement of the other brothers,
or the mature among them."
We are to each have a “separate” cell. This does not simply mean that we each have an individual room, with individual doors. The cell is not a room, but a place of intimacy, an encounter where we can spend time, not merely sleeping; in retreat from others so that we can watch our tv show or listen to our favorite music; sitting at our writing desk or finding a quiet place to read a book; it is a place where we spend dwelling in union with out Beloved. If we are paying attention, the cell is not even specified to be a single room. Perhaps tradition has interpreted it as such, and that tradition is meaningful, but what is most meaningful is that the cell is a “separate” place where we do not simply go, but in which we live and spend time with God, actively and privately. This quality means two things.
is a series of reflections on the Carmelite Rule, the quintessential letter of St. Albert of Jerusalem which has lead Christians to a life in allegiance with Christ and the Perfection of Love for more than 800 years. The blog brings the tenants of this ancient Way of Life into a contemporary context.
At the heart is a Way of Life, in the tradition of Elijah, that leads us to stand in the presence of the One who Loved us first and in a most perfect way; and to be transformed into one who loves more perfectly.