Recently, I was asked to make a mountain. It was to be part of Sr. Marie’s meeting room environment for her retreat entitled On the Holy Mountain. I’ve been asked to do some unusual things before, but never make a mountain. Where to begin?
First, there was a storage-room search for some mountain-colored fabrics, then a trip to the kitchen pantry with a cart. In the pantry I went shelf to shelf collecting tin cans of every size, empty jars, plastic containers, some variously-shaped food packages, and a bit of stainless steel. By stacking, leaning, propping, spreading, and draping this improbable collection of materials, I managed to create a credible mountain. Sr. Mary Adrian came along with some ideas about greenery and some extra fabric from her studio and turned the mountain into something even better than credible. A trip out back for a few rocks provided the final accent.
Looking at the fabric-draped mountain, you’d never know that the cloth hid a jumble of precariously stacked foodstuffs – everything from barbeque sauce to marmalade to chicken broth to a box of tea bags, all crowned with an upside down ice cream scoop holder. It was like a kitchen in camouflage, yet it gave shape to the fabric, changing a random assortment of mountain-colored cloths into a majestic, and defining, mantle.
For each of us, the vocation to which we are called is a kind of mantle, a figurative cloak draped across our lives, defining who we are. Yet no matter our vocation, it is the stuff of daily life – the “everything and the kitchen sink,” if you will – that both gives shape to our vocation, and forms the terrain upon which our vocation takes shape.
Whether vowed religious, spouse, or parent, our vocations are expressed within and amidst ordinary life. We make our lives from, and in turn are made by, the ‘stuff’ of life. Buying groceries, studying for school, mowing the lawn, growing vegetables, taking out the trash, comforting a child, bringing food to the sick, helping a neighbor, offering our gifts, laboring diligently at the work we have been given… This jumbled assortment of ordinary experiences propped against one another – sometimes precariously, sometimes improbably – forms the terrain we traverse as we climb the holy mountain in search of God.
We drape ourselves daily in the mantle of our calling, our vocation giving definition to our work, and our work, in turn, giving shape to our vocation. In faithfully living our call within the ordinary circumstances of our lives, we can help make far more than a credible mountain. Our lives can become bread for the world, a kitchen in camouflage, the terrain that helps others traverse the pilgrim path to God.
Postscript: This weekend, our monastic community will gather for election of Prioress. One Sister from among us will be called forth to assume the mantle of leadership. This call, too, bids one to be steeped in the ordinary events of life – care for the sick, attention to goods of the monastery, diligent labor – as she helps the community traverse the path to God. The call to leadership will shape her, even as she gives shape to the call. Our Community News web page contains information about the election process for those who are interested.