Good Zeal

Instruction manual

Yesterday I picked up a old iron as I packed up an area of Annunciata Hall. Its heavy weight and fabric-coated cord suggested it was perhaps of 1960’s vintage. Next to the iron was the instruction manual which had accompanied the iron through the decades.

A consistent pattern I’ve noticed over these weeks of helping pack up and move various areas of the monastery is the presence of an instruction manual accompanying nearly any kind of device or appliance. It doesn’t matter the type of equipment or the age of the device. It could be a space heater, or a DVD player, or a microwave oven, or an iron, or even a sick call set from the early years of our community. If it is electric or must be assembled or has controls of some sort, an instruction or assembly manual is sure to be nearby.

If I had found just an occasional manual, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it because we keep them in low profile. But as I packed, their ubiquity became noticeable. It’s not that we aren’t able to figure out how to turn things on and off or how to operate a toaster oven. We don’t even necessarily use the manuals; many are still snug in their original plastic sleeves. But somehow, saving them just seems an appropriate way to be orderly and careful with the goods entrusted to our care, and to be considerate to those who may use them in the future.

I find something touching and tender in the presence of all these manuals, and after encountering them over and over I began to view them with a kind of reverence. I think their presence speaks to the way in which we’ve absorbed Benedict’s instruction to treat “all goods of the monastery as if they were sacred vessels of the altar.” I think it’s also a way to express care for one another, including those who will come after us who maybe, just maybe, will need to know how to replace the thing-a-ma-jig on the such-in-such. The manual will be at the ready to tell them how.

I think it is testament, too, to the ongoing quality of our life as a monastic community, with our current generation seamlessly integrated with those who came before us and those who are yet to come. We know that the various goods of the monastery came from the hard work and generosity of those who preceded us, and what we leave behind we want to bequeath in good condition.
All of this is witness to how we’ve absorbed the most ubiquitous and most important of all the instruction manuals here in the monastery – the Rule of St. Benedict. Daily we listen together to a reading from this ancient manual.  It teaches us that our reverence for God gets expressed in the daily interactions of life, including the reverent use of created goods, and reverence for one another. It is an instruction manual that for centuries upon centuries has never become obsolete.
Postscript: The photograph above was taken as we were moving out of Ottilia Hall prior to renovation.  The air conditioner was headed for our yard sale, but it went complete with its instruction manual! 

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