Happy Feast of Benedict!

My friend, Jackie, wrote a great reflection on the Transfiguration last week. She is writing weekly for an email we receive from our community’s federation (Federation of Saint Scholastica) as we prepare to celebrate its centennial this June in Atchison, KS and in our home communities. Surely Jackie’s words were part of my subconscious when I realized that I had formed enough thoughts to put together my own words for this blog. Read a part of what she has to say about the mountaintop, and then continue on. (If you care to read her thoughts on the Third Sunday of Lent, here they are as well.)


A few weeks ago, I met a young Episcopal priest who was very interested in monasticism. She particularly wanted to understand its appeal for some spiritual “nones” who are leaving parishes like the one she serves.

“Monasticism seems to have a certain mystique that makes it very attractive,” she sighed. “Being in a regular parish church is mostly a matter of putting out folding chairs and then putting them away.”

I laughed and said that, although she’s probably right that many people who are drawn to monasticism expect it to offer something exotic, our day-to-day life also largely consists of chores. “We’re not exactly living on the mountaintop,” I said.


That’s what we are called to do, too: to fully give ourselves over to awe when we feel the divine presence, of course, but more importantly, to doggedly look for it, day by day. We monastics do our quotidian little chores, sit through long meetings, hold signs in inclement weather at political demonstrations, serve difficult guests at a soup kitchen, pray the same 150 psalms over and over, find a way to live peaceably with our sisters… all of it, hopefully, with a reverent awareness that God may be found in the midst of this.

That does seem to be attractive to many people, as my new priest friend noticed. It may be especially attractive to those who are disillusioned with institutions that have a flawed sense of certainty about exactly who, and exactly what, is holy. The monastic eagerness and curiosity about where God can be found–our willingness to seek the sacred in the mundane and even the ugly–is part of our gift to the world.


As I’ve gotten older, (I know this phrase makes my sisters laugh at a median age of 76, but I am standing firm at 34!) my experiences of God have changed.

When I was in my early 20’s, I had some pretty big, obvious moments of sacred sensation, fully aware that God’s presence was the center of my being and that of the cosmos.

These days those grand and awesome “mountaintop” moments often escape me; I cannot recall the last time I experienced one.

And, now it’s even harder for me to use the word “God” to describe the movements of my life. I am less and less sure of what the word even connotes, and I think God likes it that way.
But, yesterday morning, at Liturgy, there were two so-totally-ordinary things that happened, and I was so-totally-sure of their holiness.
At the start of Liturgy two sisters who are dear, lifelong friends walked into chapel together. One is recovering from surgery, the other accompanied her. When the healing one walked past the chairs the other had pointed out to her and chose her own seat, the other sister simply shrugged her shoulders out-of-view of her friend as if to say, “Yup, that’s my friend…always doing her own thing,” and she simply sat down.
Jackie and I laughed at each other, acknowledging the mirror to the future that this small moment provided us. We both knowingly said, “We’re going to be both of them one day!” (If we are not already there now.) Laughing at the quirkiness of the intimacy that monastic life affords is joyful. It’s hearing the footsteps of someone behind you walking into chapel and smiling to yourself as you identify her by the sound of her gait; it’s changing the routine you have on your dish team when you sub on another because you know that they don’t do things the same way as yours; it’s knowing who is going to follow you to the fridge after morning prayer and getting out the orange juice with some pulp because that’s what she likes…some pulp. Beautiful, unique, odd, lovely intimacy—indeed. It’s nowhere near the mountaintop, but I have no doubt it’s part of the journey there.
The second moment that stood out to me during Liturgy came during the responsorial psalm. We heard one of my favorites: a harmonized duet of Our God is Kind and Merciful. The sung harmony of these two sisters is always beautiful and breathtaking, but it felt especially beautiful yesterday. I think it was because in front of me sat two sisters who, too, are dear, lifelong friends, but they, on the other hand, were sitting side-by-side. You could tell that they were each leaning in toward the other with a particular fondness and love.
One of them has Alzheimer’s, and the other helps with her caretaking, after decades of living together. She takes turns accompanying this sister—sitting next to her at prayer, pointing out where to make a turn down a hallway, helping her play Bingo—as Jackie would describe, “quotidian” events. And, even as the latter helps with the former sister whose memory is fading away, there is no doubt that she remembers and loves her sister deeply.
But, it was hearing the words of the psalm, “Our God is kind and merciful” while witnessing to this very real personification of the holy presence a few rows ahead that took me a little higher on the mountain. Isn’t that what we are called to do? Be Christ in the world, here and now, for others?
The monastic life offers daily opportunities for this, all life does. But, having just made monastic vows, having just made a commitment to live the Christ life in this community, adds a little power to my reflections these days. We heard a reminder of it at morning prayer this morning: we commit our lives to coming together as strangers and making Christ’s presence known.

We heard those words because today is a special day for us Benedictines. We celebrate the feast of our founder. Saint Benedict attuned himself so fully to mundane and asked us to seek God there. Indeed, the mundane makes up much of the Rule he gave us to guide us in our way of life. Where to say “Alleluia” when we pray, how to prepare to serve a meal, how to divide up the balance between work and prayer. There are no formal instructions on seeking God to be found in the Rule, except that it’s all an instruction.

Let us celebrate, as some say, “the extraordinary ordinary” of the Benedictine way of life today. Wherever you are on the mountain, be grateful for God’s presence with you—whatever that means.
Let us walk in the holy presence.