It feels as if we have moved all of heaven and earth over the past couple of months so you’d think that moving our kitchen and dining room would be a piece of cake (pun intended). It seems simple enough:
• Move some tables and chairs from one large room to another large room.
• Load food and dishes onto a bunch of carts and roll them all from one pantry to another pantry.
• Move the final few pieces of kitchen equipment.
• Look admiringly at all we’ve accomplished.
• Phone for pizza delivery and then call it a day.
But it will not be that simple, and one of the reasons it won’t be simple is because of the sheer importance of mealtime here at the monastery. First, there’s the important practical effort of keeping all of us fed and nourished. That in itself is a logistical feat, especially when you add in retreat guests that sometimes number into the 50’s or 60’s and beyond. So we have alot of equipment.
Then there’s the practical issue of 40-something of us learning our way around a large, new kitchen. Where are the crackers? And where is the milk? What’s the best route to take out the trash? And by the way, where are the trash bags? Where will Sister Mary Cookie Monster find her cookies? Where are the bowls? The plates? The napkins? The recycling? The orange juice? The oranges? The stirring spoons? The pots? The pans? And for heaven’s sake, the cookies? We have been told to expect “chaos…utter chaos.” But knowing us, there will be an underlying orderliness that will get us through, even if we wind up looking like bumper cars for a while as we learn to navigate this new space.
But that’s just the practical side of things. For us monastics, a meal is never solely about physical nourishment. Gathering to break bread as a community holds a sacramental dimension that transcends the merely practical aspects of a meal. The place where this happens day after day eventually takes on a unique character and comes to hold a special place in the heart of the community. Next to the chapel, the dining room would surely be considered the most prominent interior symbol of our common life.
The building that houses our current kitchen and dining room was constructed in 1912. It has been added on to many times, giving it a roof line that has confounded architects and planners. Over the years it has served not only the monastic community but also countless students, retreatants, family members, and other guests. It is a special building that symbolizes more than the sum of its parts and encompasses more than its ever-spreading roofline. This “more” is what makes this such a momentous move.
Each of us has readily adapted to our new bedrooms and community rooms even though it required a herculean effort to get us all moved. But tomorrow’s move is arguably the most complex move of all – both practically and emotionally. In this room we have celebrated, mourned, and given thanks. We have sung hymns and recited prayers. We have laughed until we cried. We have decorated Christmas trees and set the tables for Mardi Gras. We have eaten in monastic silence and chatted endlessly about the concerns of the day. We have baked bread and chopped vegetables and snapped beans – for years upon years upon years. Memorial candles for deceased Sisters are kept here, as is our portrait of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, whose protection we implore each night.
The center table, usually decorated for the liturgical season, is barren tonight, and if all goes on schedule tomorrow, tonight’s dinner was the last dinner we will share here. There is a feeling of wistfulness, but we are so grateful for the beautiful new dining room and kitchen we will inhabit tomorrow. We’ll take our candles and crucifix with us, our statues and sacred art, our celebrations and our sorrows, our paring knives and stirring spoons. And although we may not be able to find the milk and cookies right away, I don’t think there will really be chaos. Because on this once-in-a-lifetime day, we will still be living our ordinary monastic lives, dwelling together in the peace of Christ as we savor the moment on this momentous day.
Postscript: Thanks be to God for this beautiful transformation of our former auditorium. For those acquainted with this space you will recognize the familiar arch of the stage. Our serving line is in what was formerly the stage area. The new kitchen is through the door at the rear of the serving area, and the new Retreat Center dining room is on the far side of the kitchen. By the way, we do plan to order pizza tomorrow night and let Friday breakfast be our first cooked meal in the new kitchen. But I don’t think we’ll be able to simply call it a day. After all, it will be a momentous day!