Unceasing rain throughout the day eventually led to rising water, and by late afternoon I found myself teamed with Sister Tonette in a complex operation involving buckets, a ‘wet vac,’ 5 giant trash cans, and repeated, headlong dashes across the lawn through the pouring rain. Side by side we worked, along with a a couple of other Sisters and a dedicated employee, until we were totally drenched and the workspace was finally dry.
Although the nature of yesterday’s task was atypical, the shared endeavor was not. Life in monastic community is an integrated life. Our common prayer does not exist apart from our common work. Likewise, our common work would not have its spiritually-formative character without our common prayer. And both our common prayer and the shared work of life in community lead us into the work of ministry.
Our shared work reflects the full range of human labor – from creative to manual to skilled to intellectual. The breakfast cook might go up to chapel after breakfast and serve as a cantor. The grass mower might come inside, get cleaned up, and lead a retreat presentation. The Tuesday evening dish washer might be a teacher by day, and perhaps assist with an elder Sister at night. This monastic endeavor calls us to give our entire self to the work of the monastery and to ministry, and not sequester ourselves into particular or isolated roles.
This is not merely about keeping community life functioning smoothly, nor is it just about helping individuals grow to their fullest potential, although it is likely to have those effects. Rather, it is about diverse individuals learning to live, work, and pray in peace and mutual charity as a sign to the world of the peace and love of Christ. It is also to embody together the exhortation of St. Benedict: “That in all things, God may be glorified.”
As our Community Philosophy puts it, “We believe that God is here and can be found, and that a diversity of persons bonded into unity shows Christ to a divided world.” It is through praying and working side by side in all of life’s varied seasons and tonalities that we become bonded into unity in Christ and learn to glorify God through all of our work and prayer.
After our messy, drenching, and tiring manual labor last evening, Sister Tonette and I were in our usual choir stalls for prayer this morning. We then convened this afternoon for a scheduled meeting. It was a typical transition in the monastery – moving naturally between prayer, manual labor, and creative, intellectual work – all for the glory of God and the building up of His kingdom.