Good Zeal


We are entering the home stretch of renovation preparation. Contractors have been coming and going from Ottilia Hall doing their final pre-construction assessments. At this point, with actual construction not yet underway, the building remains accessible, and we Sisters still pass through freely. It has led to some interesting encounters between contractors and Sisters.

One such instance happened yesterday when I placed a bowl on the wide staircase leading up to the 3rd floor, a place that has long been a transient storage spot for items that one will soon come back to retrieve. A short while after storing the bowl, I returned to collect it only to find a contractor gazing up at the ceiling above it. When I walked up I offered a friendly “hello,” casually picked up the bowl and walked away. The contractor looked totally confused, and with a puzzled voice he asked if there was a leak in the ceiling. I paused, looked up, replied “no,” and walked away, as puzzled by his question as he was by the bowl. I later realized he must have reasoned that the only rationale for such an oddly situated bowl was to collect water. Yet for me, the bowl was situated in a completely logical location.

It was a very simple and somewhat amusing example of how differing horizons can lead to differing interpretations of the same experience, such as the presence of a bowl on a stairstep. A visiting contractor sees it, and looks upward for leaks, while a Sister within her home sees a household item in transit, and picks it up for the next stage on its journey.

In our monastic community, we have forty-four Sisters. We share in common the overarching horizon of our Catholic faith and Benedictine charism. Community norms and traditions also constitute a shared scope of practice and meaning. Nevertheless, when it comes to the ‘small stuff’ of daily life, we have forty-four different horizons – different backgrounds, different ways of construing the same event, different ways of doing things.

Even though our shared life leads to some shared practices, including informal ones such acceptable transient storage spots, we each still retain our own unique perspectives and it can lead to some interesting encounters. At times this is a challenge. At times it leads to humorous moments. At times it leads to frustration. But always, it is a gift. We need the vision and perspective of others in order to help us see beyond our own limited horizon, our own sometimes predictable perspective.

St. Benedict’s eighth step of humility instructs the monk to do “only what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery and the example set by…superiors.” (RB 7:55) The monk is also exhorted not “to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.”(RB 72:7) Expanding our horizon to encompass the vision of another instead of insisting on the primacy of our own point of view allows us to receive the gift of insight and wisdom that comes from another’s perspective, and offers an occasion to show the mutual obedience to which St. Benedict calls us.

Sometimes the context is the small, occasionally humorous, stuff of daily life. Sometimes it is deeply serious spiritual insight or correction. In either case, the shared, overarching horizon of our faith and our charism encompasses all of our small, personal horizons – our divergent backgrounds, temperaments, interpretive frameworks and varied ways of doing things – and draws us onward in the mutual love and peace to which we are called.

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