Just like your families, monasteries have traditions. One such tradition here at Saint Benedict's is that December 31 is a day of recollection. We spend the day in silence. We can choose to give ourselves an extended time for Lectio or to reflect on the "conference" that our Prioress, Sister Michaela gives us after Morning Prayer. It also happens that on this day we listen to the last chapter of the Rule of Benedict read to us just before Morning Prayer. Tomorrow, January 1, we will begin the reading of the Rule from the beginning.
This morning as we listened to Chapter 73, it struck me, probably because it is the last day of the year, that Benedict is telling us that just because we have arrived at the end of his Rule that we are accomplised monastics and there is nothing left to strive for. In fact, he tells us quite the opposite. There is much we can do beyond reading "this little rule for beginners"; Benedict gives us a reading list that we can use as a tool to guide us on our way to Christ. By the way, and in case you are wondering, the Rule of Benedict is not only for monastics who live in monasteries, but the beauty of the Rule is that it can be adapted to anyone's life.
As we begin 2013 tomorrow, today may be the end of one year but it is only a pause as we refresh ourselves and prepare to continue on our sacred journey with each other.
We wish you and your loved ones a very blessed new year and we assure you of our prayers, especially for those who have a special need at this time. (The photo was taken by Nancy Bauer, OSB on Christmas Eve 2012 as the schola stood around the altar singing "Hodie Christus Natus Est - Today Christ is born for us".)
As Christmas Day falls on Tuesday this year, the Tuesday blog will be published later this week.
The following week, January 1 falls on Tuesday when we will be celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, so again, the blog will appear later in the week.
In winter we are reminded again that within darkness there is light. We remember how the gray winter clouds appear as a quilt of shadowy darkness, hiding the sun. Yet, eventually they release their moisture and reveal the gift of sunlit snow. Until that happens, we are left with wondering when and where the sun will again appear. In this waiting time we spontaneously gravitate towards those who seem to carry light to others by their quiet presence or wholehearted stories.
The cloud of the massacre in Connecticut is certainly in our hearts and minds these days. All the bearers of light that we have seen surface among people of every age, religion and occupation have provided incredible beacons of light amid darkness. What a powerful daily invitation to willingly create a quiet space or compassionate word as a simple life-giving light during ordinary waiting times. As President Obama said at the recent memorial service for those who died, “Only with our willingness to love one another, take supportive actions and remember we are all one family will we possess the life-giving light we need to walk forward together.”
May we all receive the daily gift of noticing small spaces of darkness around us and walk into them with quiet compassion. May our respectful loving presence help to diffuse these spaces with rays of communal hope. And may the gift of wisdom give us a willingness to wait for divine-timing to reveal again that all will be well on our journey together.
Silence. . . the silence of nature, especially in winter when growth continues, though in restfulness, under packs of leaves or protective covers. The silence of two who love one another deeply, comfortably, and in quiet presence. The early morning silence before any schedules whip us into so much doing. The silence before noon prayer when we sit and await the gong that calls us to prayer. The silence following upon much research and scholarship - before words come from a teacher’s mouth, or flow from a writer’s pen. There is the Great Silence that St. Benedict bids us cherish: “After Compline no one will be permitted to speak further” RB, 42.
And now upon us, the silence of Advent, of a mother growing a child within, a family readying itself for the Incarnation!
Can we believe in the fruitfulness of rest, of womb-silence, of awaiting the joy of Christmas? Can we actually and conscientiously practice silence?
A slight re-working of the familiar Serenity Prayer might be ours this 2nd week of Advent:
God, grant me the SERENITY to know
what I need to know, to buy, to say;
the COURAGE to ignore
what I don’t need to know, to say, to buy;
and the WISDOM to know the difference.
If you've read our obituary section, you'll know that Sister Mary David Olheiser died on November 27 and her funeral was held this past Saturday. From the obituary, you'll realize that S. Mary David was a very intelligent, very gifted woman. She used those gifts to serve her community and the Church, and she is a fine example of a woman who had a successful career, and even succeeded in a man's world, as a canon lawyer in the Roman Catholic Church. In succeeding, she also provided a model for any woman who believes in the capacity of women to contribute at the highest levels without becoming bitter or resentful towards men. She was someone who could keep her eyes on the goal and concentrate on moving forward, while maintaining the greatness of soul that allowed her to love and respect all people, whether men or women.
As some of you will know, I entered the community in 2007, so I only knew S. Mary David in the last years of her life. In those years, we established a real friendship and I'm grieving her death, even though I know she was very ready for the next stage in her being. And the reason I'm grieving is not because she was so successful or a good role model for women, but because she was a kind and thoughtful person. She paid attention to a person as an individual. For instance, when I was going on my first visit home to England, she took me all over the monastery taking pictures, so that I could show my family and friends where I was: "It'll help them adjust to be able to imagine you in your new home", she said. S. Mary David also shared her thoughts with me about living the monastic life. We discussed the difficulties, challlenges and blessings, and she introduced me to authors whom she admired and who had helped her along her path to God. I'm grateful for the insights she gave me.
For all these reasons, and many more, I'm saddened by her death, but I'm glad to be grieving. To grieve for someone means that you loved them and that they loved you, and you made a difference in one another's lives. It's a kind of sadness that I wouldn't want to miss. So, "thank you", S. Mary David, for giving me cause to grieve.
This blog is maintained by a group of Sisters at Saint Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota. We try to post weekly and often succeed at that.
The opinions on this blog belong to individual writers and do not reflect any official position of the monastery. Please feel free to comment on any of the entries-- comments are moderated, but we'll publish any reasonable comment.