Good Zeal

Contemplative construction

This morning, after a very quiet weekend, the throttles were humming again in the heavy equipment that surrounds (and inhabits!) the monastery. The engines revved up right after Lauds. It was as if our concluding verse – “Thanks be to God” – was followed immediately by “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

From the sounds and sights outside my office window, I sometimes wonder if I’m living in a monastery or at some sort of ‘monster truck’ mega-fest. But despite the noise, it’s not hard to know that this is unmistakably a monastery. The monastic atmosphere remains despite the motorized symphony of booms and beeps. It’s present in our good-humored acceptance of the inconveniences of construction. It’s present as we greet arriving workmen as we exit Lauds. It’s present in the Psalm verses Sr. Therese placed along the ‘tunnel,’ and in the scanned archival photos that also line the corridor reminding us of the Sisters who worked and prayed before us – and who lived through their own construction projects. Fidelity to the basic elements of our monastic life keeps us anchored through the disruptions, and keeps us steeped not in noise, but in the contemplative spirit to which we are called.

Yes, the idea of contemplation in a construction zone may seem a bit odd. But I’ve now experienced four weeks of living in the midst of it and can attest to the possibility. It’s kind of like any form of prayer, which at its core is simply being attentive to, and remaining in communion with, our dear Lord. And this can happen anywhere, anytime, even in the midst of noise and disruption.

This spirit of prayer helps us see the deep silence and hidden beauty at the heart of construction – the skill of the craftsmen, the beauty of light, the artful lines and contours of the design, the desire for God that animated all Sisters who have dwelt here, and that still animates those here now…

Indeed, there’s a lot going on. But so is our regular monastic life of prayer and work. We go right on with our life of mutual obedience under a Rule and a Prioress – just as centuries of monastics have done through millennia of construction projects – always seeking to build the kingdom of God.

Postscript: Much of the activity is taking place just outside the Retreat Center office, giving me a front row seat for much of the action and noise. There are quieter spots! The retreat center residential areas are a good refuge, as is Annunciata Hall. Work ceases during our liturgical prayer, and all is quiet on the weekend!

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