“…and with our absent Sisters” is the response recited by all present at the end of Lauds and Vespers in our monastic community. It is a response to the prayer leader’s request for God’s continued presence or assistance throughout the day or night. This is a common practice in Benedictine houses to remember those who are absent from the community dating all the way back to St. Benedict himself. In his Rule he states, “All absent brothers [or sisters] should always be remembered at the closing prayer of the Work of God” (RB 67.2). The whole of chapter 67 in the Rule of St. Benedict addresses the topic of members sent on a journey. St. Benedict also states that members being sent on a journey are to ask the abbot/prioress and the community to pray for them (v.1). We have this practice as well, but it usually is formally ritualized with a blessing when a Sister is traveling internationally or for a prolonged period of time. These simple practices speak volumes about the tender interconnectedness members of a monastic community develop.
In a monastic community, being “out-of-sight” does not make one “out-of-mind” because we are all a part of each other. The temporarily vacant choir stall in chapel or the extra empty seat in the dining room is a reminder of all the members who make us, well…us. Community members whose ministry has them living away from the monastery in Cullman for a period of time are never wholly “absent” from the minds, thoughts, and prayers of those living at the monastery. Cards, phone calls, e-mails, and visits with one another keep open the lines of communication that foster good interpersonal relationships; however, it is the life of common prayer that forges us truly into communion. We are all on this journey together. However far our footsteps might take us from the threshold of the monastery entrance, we remain a part of one another on this journey.
This kind of interconnectedness and communion is a counter-cultural witness to the world around us that, in spite of tremendous technological communication ability, seems to be disintegrating at an alarming rate. Families are divided. Civic communities are divided. Churches and religions are divided. Social, economic, and political systems are driving the whole of humanity further and further apart from itself and its greater good.
Communion never happens by accident. It must be intentional, and it must be a priority. St. Benedict knew this. So, the various “disciplines” and practices that St. Benedict includes in his Rule are aimed at cultivating the wholesome, loving, nurturing environment in which the strong have something the strive for and the weak nothing to run from. But foremost of all these is prayer—praying with and for one another with mutual love.
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB