I have come to realize that people sometimes have idealized ideas about monastic life, as if monastics somehow live in some other sphere that exists beyond the aroma of burnt toast and the miscues of crossed signals. But like any life, life here in the monastery has its share of lost keys, burnt toast, crossed signals, borrowed books that never quite get returned, and clothes that someone (surely not me!) forgot to take out of the dryer. It is, in short, a life-sized life, with joys and failures and hopes and disappointments similar to those of anyone who ever sighed with pleasure over some small success, only to then forget to mail the letter that was supposed to go out that day.
Perhaps what makes our life different, beyond the unique promises of monastic profession, is the degree to which the common life actually intensifies the ordinary experiences of daily life. Our foibles and failures, joys and disappointments are there for the whole community to share at close range. This can be heartwarming; it can also be humbling.
The Rule of St. Benedict exhorts us to support “with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior (RB 72:5).” It is humbling to realize my failures of patience, but even more humbling to realize that others are patiently supporting me in my weakness. Perhaps they even recognized my weakness long before I did, and quiely upheld me until I could grow into the shoes I was trying to fill.
Three times a day, we pray the Our Father together as a community – at Lauds, Mass, and Vespers. St. Benedict built this into the framework of the monastic day, knowing of our need to continually pardon and seek pardon.
Like any ordinary family on any ordinary street, we struggle along, sometimes losing our keys or dropping a glass or singing out of tune or grieving a loss even as we rejoice in the rich banquet that God has set before us. We stumble, even as we grow in grace.
It is indeed a life-sized life. Yet the holy work of patiently upholding one another calls us to be larger than life. It calls us to root ourselves deeply in the life of Christ, bringing His life, love and mercy to our Sisters and to a struggling world.