Sr. Tonette handed me the note just before dinner last night. It looked serious, like an official memo – 12 point font, Times New Roman, 8 and a half by 11, bullet points beginning about halfway down the page. But this was no ordinary business memo.
“Dear Sisters Therese, Elisabeth, and Michelle,” it began. I had to smile as I started to read, wondering what on earth we were about to get ourselves into now. In the past months we Sisters have found ourselves in all kinds of strange situations and unlikely tasks as we have engaged in this once in a lifetime (I hope!) mountain-moving project and have come to the rescue in all manner of situations that have gone awry in the process.
This current project was, as Sr. Tonette put it, “a good convent cleaning” of some stainless steel and galvanized kitchen equipment that will soon be transported from our current kitchen to our new one. The various pieces of equipment are all probably at least half a century old and our task was to make them look as if they had just been born out of the stainless steel cabbage patch. After all, they are going to a brand spanking new kitchen and we want them to be their best shiny selves when placed against shiny new walls.
So after supper last night, joined by Sr. Regina and armed with scouring pads, soft cloths, and basins of water, we got to work. We turned tables upside down. We took apart drawer casings. We dismantled shelves. We lay on our backs and peered upward at the undersides of cabinets and stood on stepstools to gaze down from on high.
At one point, I looked up from the galvanized table leg that I was scrubbing to a polished shine. I saw the other four Sisters arrayed throughout the kitchen, silently intent on their tasks and poised in unique, nearly-impossible stances, like a tableau of elite gymnasts.
But a more apt image would be that we looked like a family, each doing her part in the work of keeping our home clean and bright, and each pitching in in her own unique way to the common work of the household, sometimes stretching to heroic bounds.
On the eve of the Feast of the Holy Family, I looked at my dear Sisters like the family that they are to me, arrayed like a tableau of beloved kinfolk, each struggling through the strange situations and unlikely tasks of life, and each helping the others in their struggle But each was also arrayed like the stainless steel tables and shelves, giving herself to the purifying action of the Holy Spirit and the purification that comes through life in monastic community as together we seek to be a holy family, shining for the glory of God.