A superficial observation of daily monastic life might well give the impression that we are guilty of the very thing that Jesus is warning against in his description of the behaviors of the people in the time of Noah. As monks we go about our very ordinary daily tasks in much the same way as they did. Indeed, being told that one is going to die later today and continuing to work at one’s assigned task until that death occurs would be considered virtuous. We might also recall Paul’s admonition to some of the Thessalonians who in eager expectation of the imminent return of Christ, had actually begun doing what Jesus seems to be advocating—namely, not simply going about their daily business, but watching attentively for his return.
And since we presume that our monastic life is not at variance with what Jesus is calling us to, we might ponder how our going about the normal affairs of every day differs from that of the people in Noah’s day. This is somewhat difficult because the Book of Genesis doesn’t tell us anything about these people’s attitude or, indeed, if they received any warning. Perhaps they witnessed Noah building the ark and simply dismissed him as deluded or insane. The only thing that Genesis does make clear is that these people were wicked and excluded God from lives that were caught up in and absorbed by the passing things of this earthly existence—they thus had no spiritual or eternal perspective.
Presumably, before God spoke to Noah, he too went about his daily chores doing the simple tasks of every day but all this was done in the conscious presence of the God he honored by the integrity of his life. This enabled God to easily alert him to his intended purpose of ridding the earth of evil. And when God spoke, Noah obeyed. He no longer occupied himself with the everyday tasks that previously filled his days. Instead, he now focused his energies on constructing the ark in compliance with the guidelines laid down by the Lord.
And so it would seem that we need to aim for that happy medium between the careless and mindless attitudes of the people in Noah’s day and the overzealous anticipation of the Thessalonians. To do so, we take Noah himself as our model in remaining engaged with carrying out God’s will in all the daily tasks entrusted to us, while never becoming so absorbed in them as to forget the end of all things and our final destination. When we act in this way, we are close to that monastic ideal of continuous prayer that positively infiltrates our everyday lives and suffuses them with goodness and actually enhances our performance of them. In this state of mind and heart, the sudden return of Christ may surprise us, but it will not catch us unprepared but ready to drop everything and welcome him.
May that be our happy lot as we progress through this special Advent Season of grace that is yet another opportunity to deepen our awareness of God’s presence in all things, so that every action, every task, becomes a potential point of contact and encounter with the one who, although he will come definitively at the end of time, also comes to us spiritually at every moment.