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

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