Tuesday, September 1, 2015

All in a Spin

Karen Rose, OSB: Monastery washing machine
Before I entered the monastery, I wasn’t entirely bought into the myth that women and men who enter monasteries are a different species floating effortlessly from prayer to prayer, transcending normal life and its attendant duties and annoyances, but I never really thought about what everyday life, in a monastery would be like. Specifically, I never considered laundry.

Now, there was a time when there was a monastery laundry here at Saint Benedict's. It was housed for many years in what is now the Formation House, the place where women live for the first two years while they begin discerning their call to monastic life. The building was also home to the Spirituality Center for a period, which is a lesson in being adaptable. My experiences with laundry here highlight that I have a way to go before I’m as accommodating as that house!

By the time I got here in 2007, Sisters had, for some time, been responsible for their own laundry, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not a community experience. We live in small groups of 3-10 Sisters here at the motherhouse. Laundry facilities are often shared by groups and this creates a great opportunity for learning to love others, even when their laundry practice doesn’t match you own. So here’s a list of the laundry challenges I have learned to live with!
  • 1.      I’ve realized that when 15-20 other people are using the same two machines, you can’t always do your laundry when you’d like to.
  • 2.    You can’t choose the machine you’d like. I prefer front loaders (common in Europe where I come from) but ours are top loaders. Guess what? I’m going to have to use what’s there and learn to be grateful for it.
  • 3.     People put laundry in the machine and forget it. This raises the ticklish question of whether they will mind if I take it out. An exercise in trying to read the mind of another and do the least offensive thing while bearing in mind the communal good. After all, a lot of people will be held up if one set of laundry is in the machine for five hours!
  • 4.    Ditto for the tumbler drier.
  • 5.     When finding the machine finally unused at an inconvenient time, I put in some laundry. I forget it. This leads to guilt. (For the record, I prefer people to take my stuff out so they can get theirs in.) Maybe it’s best sometimes to resist the lure of the free machine just before I go to a meeting. An exercise in moderation - a Benedictine value.
  • 6.    Soap/detergent/bleach/spot remover are supplied. What is supplied is not necessarily what I would choose. Until recently we had a stick spot remover available. No longer. The spray is not nearly as good. I will have to be more careful not to drop anything on my clothes. A lesson in caring for all things “as vessels of the altar” which is what St. Benedict teaches.
  • 7.     Other people. I am positively sanctimonious about energy and money saving when it comes to laundry. Big load, minimal use of the tumbler drier which, from owning a house and paying bills, I know positively EATS both money and energy. It is, therefore, very difficult for me to share laundry with facilities with people who don’t have these priorities. Please, God, help me to be aware that I probably do things that irritate them and that being careful with laundry is not the only requirement for entering heaven!

Honestly, before I entered the monastery, I never thought laundry would get me in such a spin! Sometimes when it’s whizzing round at the end of the washcycle, I feel a distinct empathy …

Karen Rose, OSB

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I See You

Photo: Trish Dick, OSB

“I see you!” These three words brought the women veterans to tears Sunday morning at the closing session of a wonderful retreat for the women veterans of Minnesota at Saint Benedict’s Monastery. There were 23 women veterans and five non-veteran support staff of the Women Veterans Initiative who participated.
The retreat provided Benedictine hospitality to the veterans.  We strove to follow what is in the Rule of Benedict, chapter 53: “All guests are to be received as if they were Christ.”  Most of these women feel they live on the margins, and are often unseen, even in their church community. The Sisters view the retreat, designed specifically for women Veterans, as a ministry to women who have been under-served and under-appreciated for their commitment of military service to our country.

The theme was: “A Taste of Wellness: Holistic Healing through Many Modalities.”  Retreat activities included various modalities for the healing of “mind, body, and spirit.” Our goal was to provide multiple ways of healing and integration.  Veterans could participate in pottery, gardening, crafting, writing, walking, resting, and experiencing many form of healing body work (foot reflexology, massage, healing touch, yoga, and Feldenkrais). Spiritual direction was also offered.  Many veterans chose to join the sisters for Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist. Being able to socialize with the sisters at meals and in activities created a bond of community.

This retreat was a good fit for us sisters because we understand the difficulties of living out a specific mission of service in a male-dominated world, something we have in common with women veterans. Sisters have been trail blazers, just as the women veterans have. We have a history of being educated entrepreneurs who model leadership roles for women in a culture where we often have been underappreciated and undervalued, just as women veterans have. We understand how important it is to have the support of a strong community of other women. The monastery was a natural and good fit for the women veterans, because it provided a safe and welcoming place for healing and reflection along with opportunities to experience prayer and community.

Our greatest hope for the women would be that they came away from the retreat knowing that their individual stories matter, that their military service is valued by others and that there are things they can do to help heal the trauma they have experienced.

We wanted them to know that we acknowledge their service to our country.  And we recognize the deep pain and struggle they have endured. Most of all, we hoped they would feel immersed in God’s love by connecting with us and by sharing our lives and sacred spaces.

This retreat humbled me; it enlarged my perspective regarding the significant suffering of women veterans who live with PTSD. Some of their stories, pain and tears haunt me, yet I am inspired by their resilience. I now have a deeper appreciation for their service to our country and a sobering understanding of some of the abuse some have endured. I am honored and proud to have been a part of this retreat.

Trish Dick, OSB

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Plant, Pray, Love!

The Sisters who live at the motherhouse, Saint Benedict’s Monastery, and also those who live at our retirement facility, Saint Scholastica Convent, are organized into small groups, which we call living groups. Some are housed in larger buildings and occupy a particular floor or portion of a floor; others, like the St. Wendelin group, live in separate accommodation on or near the monastery grounds.

St Wendelin’s isn’t a pretty building; in fact, it started life as a slaughterhouse! However, I’ve been struck on a number of occasions this summer by what a charming picture it presents, set in a green lawn and surrounded by flowers like those in this photograph taken by Sister Janine Mettling.

Walks are my time for personal prayer and meditation. As I’ve passed St. Wendelin’s, it’s provide with me with a real source of inspiration for going deeper. No, it’s not a great piece of architecture, but the Sisters who live there love it, not for its appearance, but because it’s the place that is their home and all that implies. That’s an important point. As Benedictines, we are urged not to become attached places or things but we also make a promise of stability, which means rooting ourselves in a place and way of life and doing our best to make that place better by our presence.

So what’s the difference between love and attachment? I guess I see the flowers as a symbol of the love the Wendelin Sisters have for their home and their desire to share what it means to them with others, in the sense that planting the flowers will bring joy into other people’s lives (e.g. mine!) That’s love. Attachment would be if they “owned” the flowers, laid claim to them and didn’t want them to be for anyone else. That’s a real lesson for me: we should never be afraid to love but always in a way that is inclusive; if love is exclusive, it’s selfish, and is a really a form of attachment and possessiveness.

Finally, these flowers have shared a lesson with me about simplicity. They aren't rigidly arranged. They may well be carefully planted but when you look at them words and phrases like ‘profusion’, ‘riot of color’, 'exuberance’ come to mind. But it’s exuberant simplicity. All I can say is that they’re simple and they’re beautiful and, for lots of reasons, I’m grateful for this simple, but profound, gift of beauty.

Karen Rose, OSB