The workshop I recently attended in North Dakota included an art project. Even though I am not very ‘arty,’ I gamely picked up a paint brush and over several days periodically wandered into the monastery studio to work on my project. Gradually my work took shape and eventually I realized I was enjoying it. The finished product was pretty rough around the edges, but nevertheless it conveyed something of my experience of the prairie.
During our community meetings last week I was asked to present a reflection about my experiences at the workshop and I had to decide: do I or do I not show my not-very-good art project to my monastic Sisters? Gamely, I pulled out my project and propped it on the table beside me as I spoke. Although I intended to use it to help illustrate my words, it occurred to me that it was an illustration of something deeper. I realized that the act of sharing with the community my rough around the edges project was somewhat similar to the monastic enterprise itself.
When we are called to monastic community we commit ourselves to being formed and shaped within a particular community for the rest of our lives. The goal of this on-going formation is to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ. Benedictines typically refer to this as “conversion through the monastic way of life.” No matter how multi-talented, finely wrought, spiritually mature, wise, or loving any one of us may be, we all remain rough around the edges in one way or the other and we all have to work at the lifelong task of conversion. Our vowed stability, an element of religious profession that is unique to monastics, allows for the constant rubbing of shoulders in work and prayer that helps smooth our rough edges as we become transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ.
I know that my unskilled ‘artistic’ efforts were appreciated by my community, and especially my willingness to share them. It’s part of allowing my community to know me – rough edges and all – as we walk together day by day, seeking to have our ‘roughness’ smoothed and our hearts transformed through fidelity to the Gospel and to the monastic way of life. The Rule of St. Benedict and the Gospel of Christ call us to no less.
Postscript: It has been a busy week around here! We had a wonderful celebration last weekend when Sr. Sara Aiden made her first monastic profession. We then had a great week of community meetings, followed by a celebration yesterday of Sr. Brigid’s 25th Jubilee. Yes, we’ve been busy, but oh, so blessed. Photos of Sr. Sara Aiden’s profession are on our Community News web page, with photos of Sr. Brigid’s celebration to soon follow.