Earlier this week, Sister Mary Adrian and I sat in the monastery dining room twisting bits of wire into shape for a project on which we are working. She is artistic and nimble with her hands. I am not. As I inexpertly twisted wire into comically misshapen pieces, she raised her eyebrows, then raised them some more. Another Sister walked by, silently assessed my efforts, and thankfully passed on without comment. I was silent too, painfully aware of my limitations and wishing I could get back into my comfort zone of word and image. I wanted badly to borrow a game show phrase and say, “I’d like to buy a metaphor.”
I am more at home with metaphors than metal, with concepts than concrete, with precepts than practicalities. The abstract world is the natural sea in which I swim and my hands are not nimble or skilled. I can shape metaphors much more readily than metal. But monastic life calls me to bring my whole self to community and to the monastic way of seeking God.
This search for God and the quest for holiness ironically involves becoming more and more human. In monastic life, this is experienced especially through the essential virtue of humility as we allow our Sisters to see the less-developed sides of ourselves, trusting them to witness with love our sometimes-painful growth, and accepting their help when it is needed. There is a kind of healing that occurs as we give ourselves openhandedly – frailty and all – to God and to our community. Conversely, a prideful stance blocks vulnerability, and the healing will not come.
This paradoxical way of searching for God by becoming more human is also experienced through obedience, the willingness to give ourselves fully and in faith to the responsibilities entrusted to us, even if it is not in the “sea” in which we are most comfortable. Faithfulness to the many practical tasks that I am assigned is helping me become a more balanced, whole – and hopefully holy – individual.
I’ll probably always prefer metaphors to metal, and I’ll likely never become adept at bending bits of wire. But by giving myself to the task, I become the one being formed – bent and shaped by the hand of God, with the help and loving witness of my monastic community.
Postscript: As Sr. Mary Adrian patiently and good-naturedly repaired my mistakes, we worked out a system. I made the first, simple bend, then she followed with the more complex twist. Ah, humility…
Here’s a photo of Sr. Mary Adrian working skillfully at her potter’s wheel.