The Monk’s To Do List

I started reading Thomas à Kempis to find some affirmations for my daily life, which, like everyone else’s, I suppose, can be challenging. Being a monk doesn’t exempt a person from work. I’ve met monks who told me one could become exhausted, because in some orders they don’t get a lot of sleep.
Anyway, The Imitation of Christ is a treasure trove! Listen to these hints for the monk’s (and mine!) daily to-do list. First, general priorities:

“On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived” (Book 1, Ch.3)

Next, how do I prioritize my daily activities? Carefully, and in accordance with what pleases God:

“A good and devout man arranges in his mind the things he has to do, not according to the whims of evil inclination but according to the dictates of right reason” (Ch. 4)

What should my attitude be towards work? Do everything well and with love:

“He does much who loves much. He does much who does a thing well. He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.” Book 1, Ch. 15.

Is it OK for a monk (or for me) to just read a lot or should our work be a bit more practical than that?

“On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived” (Book 1, Ch. 3)

Some days at the office are doozies. Work kan be true suffering at times. How do we handle that?

“You have come to serve, not to rule. You must understand, too, that you have been called to suffer and to work, not to idle and gossip away your time. Here men are tried as gold in a furnace” (Book 1, Ch.17)

Finally, check your to-do list as a daily routine:

“Each day we ought to renew our resolutions and arouse ourselves to fervor as though it were the first day of our religious life. We ought to say: ‘Help me, O Lord God, in my good resolution and in Your holy service. Grant me now, this very day, to begin perfectly, for thus far I have done nothing’” (Book 1, Ch.19)
“. . . In the morning make a resolution and in the evening examine yourself on what you have said this day, what you have done and thought . . .” (Book 1, Ch. 3)

If you’re diligent, and you achieve something, albeit small, every day, you will feel fulfilled:

“If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide” (Book 1, Ch. 25)

I don’t think I’ve ever mined this quantity of gems from a single book, apart from the Bible. Mother lode! The Imitation of Christ is available free all over the Web. Check it out.

If I Had A Hammer – The Sayings of Thomas à Kempis, Monk

In this post I tell how I came to start reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, whose Dutch surname was Haemerken (Afrikaans “hamertjie”) – little hammer. And his book is a little hammer, if there ever was one.

I’m putting my reading life back together bit by bit. I don’t have a reading plan. I’m suspicious of plans. I just think broadly of the kind of things I want to read. Fifteenth century mystics are not what I want to read right now. In fact, right now I’m reading The German Way of War by Citino as part of my self-imposed course of study in military history (but that’s a blog post in itself).

In the process of trying to establish some semblance of order, I think of a very old technique to get your stuff together: positive affirmations. I was in my early twenties back in Pretoria when I started dabbling in positive thinking. I got Paul J. Meyers Success Motivation Institute system and pasted positive affirmations (surely a tautology) up on my mirror; inane sayings such as “I get up every morning excited about the person I might help that day.” Don’t you just want to slap the man? Anyway.

So I begin to look for some sensible affirmations – ones I can believe in. In the process a website named snags the seam of my toga and I have to pause. Mmm. They have wonderful books in there: Several Bibles, some in Hebrew and Greek (with the real orthographies); they have Luther, Calvin – everybody who is anybody. My eye catches The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Yeah, I’ve known about The Imitation for many years. These guys used to beat themselves over the back with little cats-o-nine tails they carried with them in silver boxes. Wore hair shirts and stuff. Really into their suffering. Suffering . . . aha! One of my favorite topics. So I begin to read The Imitation of Christ.

After the first page I’m wide-eyed like Ali Baba after he lights the first candle to see what treasure there might be in the cave. Dear Lord, thank You for a resource like this! For insight, for wisdom, for wit, for rules for living like this! This pre-modern man writes rules of thumb such as:

[su_pullquote]“He does much who loves much. He does much who does a thing well. He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.” [/su_pullquote]

Note that this is not quite a corporate “How to get your own way, no matter what” philosophy. But that’s okay by me at this time in my life. So, instead of compiling a reading list, I spend the next several work hours copying out aphorisms and and epigrammata (I’m not sure exactly what they are, either, except short witty sayings) into flashcards at Quizlet so I can hang onto them as tightly as possible.

I called à Kempis a “pre-modern man.”  That certainly shows. To mine 21st century affirmations from him, you must do a certain amount of violence to his work by cherry-picking passages, because he was a religious and a mystic. We squirm a little bit at concepts such as having Christ as your Divine Lover and doing violence to your own body. 99.99999999999% of us aren’t quite at that point. And if you want to be fair to the author, you need to remember that that’s the core of his work – indeed, of his soul. But his deep wisdom surely lifted my spirits and continues to do so.