It seems that with any gathering of people, a gathering of signs inevitably follows, and the monastery is no exception. If you were to wander around our house, you would see signs aplenty. Posted at various places are prayer requests, sign-up sheets, instructions, reminders, thank you notes, meeting minutes, interesting articles, monastic labora assignments, and on and on.
Mostly, our communication takes place on a person-to-person level – whether one-on-one, at table, at work, in living groups, or in the gathered community. But posted signs are a kind of shorthand that helps keep us organized, on track, and informed.
Our signs are mostly functional and mundane, dealing with the day-to-day practicalities of life in community. Yet I would venture to say that there’s something in our postings that transcends mere practicality. Underlying our varied signage is a kind of monastic decorum rooted in respect for individuals and a desire to create an atmosphere that is conducive to seeking God.
An essential element of monastic life is a kind of graceful orderliness. It’s not a regimental sort of order. Rather, it’s more like a well-crafted work of art that has a pleasing proportionality, a balanced composition of color and shape, yet is able to move and flow and accommodate the spontaneous, the unexpected, and the seasons of life. A well-placed reminder or a timely bit of information helps us keep our common life well-balanced and peacefully composed, as well as creating a welcoming environment in which we can receive the guest as Christ. These are signs of kindness, signs that help us navigate well as we wander through life, and as we welcome those who wander.
Yet more importantly than creating a contemplative environment, our signs illustrate the value that we place on people, on communicating well, on making sure that everyone gets the message, that everyone is informed. Each Sister matters, and we want everyone to have the opportunity to read the thank you note, the meeting minutes, the reminder about a special gathering, the congratulatory message, the program from an event a Sister attended… These are the kinds of things that help create not just a monastic environment, but a monastic community. These are signs of love, signs that remind us we are not wandering alone.
Our various signs are rooted in our Benedictine values. Individual postings may point toward a practical end, but they also point toward a greater end of a balanced, peaceful, loving atmosphere in which we can seek God together, wandering as one through the seasons of life in harmonious, compassionate community.