Five weeks of near-total immersion in graduate study at Saint John’s, delightful though it was, left me feeling a bit ‘heady’ and I’ve spent this first week back home letting my hands – not my head – do the talking and listening. With renewed appreciation I have savored some of the simple, tangible aspects of ordinary life here at Sacred Heart – the familiar heft of familiar doors as my work carries me through the monastery, the precious weight of chalices and linens as I prepare for Mass, practiced fingers on my flute as I rehearse with Sr. Lynn Marie and Sr. Magdalena… These ordinary activities and routines have held greater resonance this week having been without them for over a month. But now, their familiar presence lets me know I am back home, back in my familiar places and spaces. Back home with my Sisters, my Community.
I really knew I was back, though, on Friday afternoon. We had been gifted that morning with six gallons of freshly-picked blueberries and they needed to be sorted, de-stemmed and rinsed. The call went out for extra hands in the kitchen and I was able to respond. For nearly an hour, I stood shoulder to shoulder around a work table with Sisters Emilie, Regina, Magdalena, and Therese as we removed stems and discarded the few berries that were a little under- or overripe. We talked a good bit. We laughed some. We occasionally worked for a stretch in silence. We chased down the occasional blueberry that jumped ship and rolled away. We each taste-tested a few. Our fingers slowly grew purple.
It was the most ordinary of monastery afternoons – a random group of Sisters, a random range of ages, an ordinary kitchen chore. When it was done, we each turned to our varied other responsibilities. And I turned to the deep certainty that yes, I’m home.
My school work at Saint John’s is directed toward an eventual graduate degree in Monastic Studies. But my real education is not the ‘head’ work of academics. It is here, in the monastery, shoulder to shoulder with my Sisters, engaged in our common work, immersed in the tangible world, my hands filled with sunlight and rain, my heart slowly ripening…it is here, in this ‘school for the Lord’s service,’ that I learn and study and grow and live.
Postscript: The monastery is described by St. Benedict in his Rule for Monks as a “school for the Lord’s service.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue, 45). No matter how many courses one may have on the monastic life, there is no substitute for the tangible reality of living it!