When I needed a data cable earlier this evening, I knew just where to go – to the shelves next to a shower. Probably in no other setting would this make any kind of sense. But in a monastery the time frame is one of generations, and the use of rooms and furnishings unfolds and refolds over decades. The gradual juxtaposition of seemingly incongruous objects makes a strange kind of sense here.
When I first entered the monastery (11 years ago yesterday), I was told that the laundry soap was in the mail room. I accepted this strange fact with equanimity. But then I learned that the bananas were kept in the laundry room, along with the pecans and our old computers. At this, the other eyebrow got raised.
There were also some seeming misnomers in monastery place names – the cookie room that contained no cookies (shucks!)…the flower room with no flowers, but that did have a closet full of seasonal decorations…the Blue Room in which nothing was blue except the chair fabric…the pealing porch that was, O silly me, actually the peeling porch for peeling vegetables, not the place for handbell practice…the kitchen carts that were called “sparkies” although no one currently living had any clue why…and, well, you get the picture.
After a while, I got the hang of what was where and the place names soon shifted from odd to endearing. I learned about Sr. Mary Ann, a baker, and the shelves that she used to fill with cookies…about the Schaffer sisters and the flower arrangements they created in the deep sinks of what became known as the flower room, and which still contained of much of our dining room decor…about the temperature and humidity in the laundry that was perfect for bananas at certain times of the year…and, well, you get the picture. I learned that this was a life lived in generations, over decades that fold and refold over themselves forming a kind of spiritual strata of work and prayer in a kind of spiritual geology of place, and of home. As the stability that is a hallmark of Benedictine life forms us as individuals and as a community, we, too, form the place. We form it into a monastic home in which our desire for God can flourish.
With our big renovation project of a few years ago, some of our endearing place names got lost in the shuffle. But we still have some, and when I went to the shelves next to a shower to get a data cable, I couldn’t help but smile with gratitude over the new strata continually forming as decades of work and prayer fold and unfold and refold in this endearing and enduring place that is our monastic home.