Monday, October 29, 2007

What is it you seek?

I seek to listen.

I seek to know myself, others, and God-with-us more fully, and to recognize ever more the divine at the center of all, calling us toward love.

I seek to be grounded in a place, and from that foundation allow my heart to be opened to the world.

I seek to live a life rooted in the wisdom of our Christian tradition, and to live more fully into the Benedictine monastic way of life as this community expresses it day by day.

These are the hopes and longings I shared with the monastic community during the ritual of formal acceptance into the postulancy. Several times each year, the entire community gathers for “Chapter,” a day-long meeting to come together around what we as a community need to discuss, discern, flesh out—community finances, visioning for the future, recognition of achievements, updating on and recapping of events, voting on certain issues, etc., etc.

During morning prayer, our prioress asked Karen and I, “What is it you seek?” We each looked out into the assembled community and shared our responses. We were then given copies of the books the community uses when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, as a symbol of this step further into the community. Of course, we’ve been praying with the community these two months, but this was the first time that the community has been assembled to confirm our acceptance into this next phase, and it somehow feels more substantive now that we’ve had time to work through the craziness of the initial settling-in process.

As I was preparing the statement above, I realized that I also hope for some magic from a framework, some effortless shaping toward sanctity and serenity. But inherent in this frame is the daily work of being present and allowing myself to be molded, day after day after day after day. It is the accumulation of micro-movements that, over time, shift us toward our center, toward the God we long for. It’s fidelity to things that seem insignificant on their own.

(“Since I’m on such a roll, I’m going to keep working instead of going to noon prayer." “I’ll just skip my reading time this one day because I have so much else to do.” “I don’t have the energy to engage with Sister X, so I’ll go around the long way to avoid her.” “I can keep going without a rest, even though that means my presence in the community will only be bodily.”)

Certainly, life happens, but in the long run, I hope I remember and trust that the daily stuff I do—or don’t do—really does add up. I may want to be as rounded and balanced and whole as some of the older sisters, but I can’t just jump straight there. They’ve filled their baskets with the delicate flakes of that “magic” faithfully over years of conversation at table, struggle in their assigned work, presence to guests, sharing their resources, calling on each other’s gifts, making time to foster their relationship with God, processing and confronting the stuff of life in between. I have my basket. Have I added to it today?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Quieting down

For months and months before I came as a postulant, I told the vocation director that I just wanted this setting and lifestyle to be normal, that I wanted to be a normal part of this place. Now that I’ve been here 7 weeks, I feel more like a part of the everyday scenery of the place—I don’t draw quite as much attention as a brand-brand new arrival. People are still thoughtful and helpful concerning particularities that a newcomer might not know about, which I appreciate; but enough of the fresh excitement has worn off that I feel like I can blend in a bit more. Things are settling down, little by little. With less of the spotlight in my eyes, it’s easier to look outside of myself, to recognize the needs of others and take appropriate action—with daily things like clearing dishes or moving a chair.

Yet, the dailyness and ordinariness aren’t somehow quite what I expected. There are a hundred things that squirm around and make that difference difficult to pin down. Some part of it has to do with quiet, reflective, listening time. I’m finding less time for it in my days thus far than I thought I would. At first, I told myself that this was just part of the transition, that I needed to establish more of a rhythm for my days, let the elements of my day settle and shift about. And I think that was true.

It’s also true that there are a plethora of things to keep one constantly busy here—planned events, spur-of-the-moment invitations, concerts and other ways of appreciating the arts, inspiring lectures, conversations en route to check one’s mail shelf, etc., etc. It can be difficult to fit in quiet time around all the rest of the opportunities here. It’s reminiscent of my first semester of college as I began to negotiate a balance among the dozens of exciting opportunities on campus, the demands of coursework, the necessity of friendships, and, especially crucial for introverts like myself, quiet time to rejuvenate from all of that stimulation. I may be at a monastery, but that certainly doesn’t mean life is quiet. In fact, one of the things I’ve admired since I first started to get to know these women is how involved and engaged they are with the world around themselves. Yet, there’s only so much a person can do; internal recharging is just as necessary as exterior engagement, and the latter is unsustainable without the former.

By “quiet time,” I mean several things: time alone to just be with myself and my thoughts; time in contemplative prayer, perhaps holding a word or phrase to draw me back to center; time to just be; time to putz around in my room and do whatever I need to do; time to slowly read and meditate on how scripture or other “holy reading” is speaking to me today.

Being a person who loves to make to-do lists, I added “quiet time” to my list some weeks back, and keep transferring it over to new lists as a way to keep that intention always before me. It strikes me, however, that what I said above about trying to fit in quiet time around the rest of life’s activities is going to continue to be exceedingly difficult to accomplish, especially on any sort of consistent basis. If quiet is truly a priority for me, let it be one of the key elements of my day around which the multitude of possibilities has to fit. It won’t just happen.

Well, that being said, perhaps I’ll go sit in the oratory for a few moments of centering. --Before moving on to the next activity. Or, rather, so I can move on to the next part of the day recharged and with my fuller self.