Friday, January 4, 2008

Still here in the new year

It’s been a while, eh? Sometimes I haven’t been sure what to write about; sometimes I felt like there was so much to write about I didn’t know where to begin; sometimes there were things to process, but this wasn’t the best forum. Sometimes life was just plain busy.

I was with my family in Montana for a very relaxing Christmas and a much-needed break, but made a point of coming back before the dawn of this new year. This was the first time I’d seen my family since we pedaled here in August, and it was harder to leave them than it usually is. It was also harder to come back to the monastery than I thought it would be, but am I ever glad I did. St. Ben’s celebrated its sesquicentennial year (150th anniversary) in 2007. It opened on Dec. 31, 2006, with a ritual that included reading the names of the sisters that have gone before us—all 1,085 of them. With 14 intervening celebrations of various sorts, the year closed on Dec. 30, 2007, with a ritual that included the prioress reading the names of all of the current members of the community—289 professed sisters, 2 novices, and 2 postulants, plus 9 more who have passed on this year.

We walked into the chapel in statio. (That’s a solemn way of processing into the chapel that the community reserves for special occasions like funerals and really big feast days. We walk in two-by-two, and bow together in front of the cross. Then as we step aside, the pair behind us steps up to the cross. As they bow to the cross, we turn and simultaneously bow toward them. It’s a beautiful symbol of solidarity on this journey and recognizing the divinity in all of us.) We normally line up in any order, but for this event we processed in rank—from the sister who’s been in the community the longest, all the way down to me, who hasn’t yet made vows.

During the closing ritual, after the prioress said the name of each living member, that person said, “I promise to be faithful.” What a powerful experience to hear sister after sister recommit herself. And, though I haven’t made monastic vows, I still promised to be faithful to this journey, wherever it leads. I think we were all promising to be faithful to the same basic quest, regardless of the formal level of commitment one has made.

After this celebration, we moved down to the dining room for a festive dinner—served by our wonderful volunteers and oblates. And after dinner there was a program, during which we reviewed the year and expressed thanks to the many, many people who had some part in making this year so special. Near the end—but before the flaming dessert!—members of the planning committee folded and presented two of the logoed outdoor banners that have flown on days of special sesquicentennial celebrations—one to S. Nancy, our prioress, and one to S. Suzanne, the senior member of our community who was present. S. Suzanne then turned around and handed her flag on to me, the youngest and newest member, in a tear-jerkingly rich symbol of unity and movement for the community. What a way to close these 150 years! And move into the next!

Sometimes we have big to-dos like those above, but mostly we live ordinary, day-to-day lives here in the monastery. It’s the daily stuff that I hope to share more about on this corner of the web in the coming weeks and months—and more regularly than I have of late! I recently shared some of my story with two fabulous sections of a class on “Women’s Theological Perspectives” at the college associated with the monastery. Those students just about blew me away with the great questions they asked, which helped flesh out the real daily life that happens inside the monastery. There’s still a shroud of mystery and holiness around places like this, but it’s really just home for 293 women who live remarkably ordinary lives. Among other great questions, the students asked things like:
Can you go on vacation?
What about your school loans and other debt?
Do you have a car?
What does the schedule of a normal day look like for you?
Do you have your own bedroom?

If you have particular things you’re curious about, just let me know.

Wishing you a Christmas season full of light and a year full of growth,



Jennifer said...

Great to have you back!

DJC said...

Glad to see your back, I really enjoy reading your posts. God's blessings to you in the start of this new year.

John said...

Hi Steph - I recently found your blog and am very interested in following your journey. I'm a graduate of St. John's, and am also a very avid cyclist - amazing reading about your ride to St. Ben's last summer! Good luck to you, my thoughts and prayers are with you. I look forward to learning more about your experience at the monastery. John

Kelly_SSJ/A said...

God's many blessings! Thank you for sharing your journey!