Tonight, as I was putting away water glasses after finishing up supper dishes, one glass caught the uneven edge of a serving tray. It took a tumble, but did not break.
Had it been one of the glasses we used in the monastery dining room up until a few months ago, the glass would likely have either become chipped, cracked, or broken. But our new glasses are made from tempered glass. Tempered glass is stronger, tougher, more resilient. It is less likely to break. And when it does break, it is less likely to shatter into dangerous shards.
After an internal gasp of relief that the glass didn’t break, I carried on with putting away the rest of the glasses, grateful for their tempered strength. As I put each glass in its proper spot (more carefully this time), I pondered the ‘tempering’ aspects of monastic life.
St. Benedict speaks of those monks who choose to live in community “where they serve under a rule and an abbot” as the “strong kind.” (RB 1:2, 13) Fidelity to monastic life, can, it seems to me, be likened to the tempering heat that strengthens glass. Serving under a rule and under monastic authority fortifies us even as we empty ourselves in humility, toughens us even as we bend our will in obedience, and strengthens us even as our hearts soften to the point of overflowing “with the inexpressible delight of love.” (RB Prologue 49)
Our new glasses are simple in style. They are humble in appearance. But they are strong. I can only trust and pray that monastic life is tempering my heart such that I am one of the “strong kind,” with the good zeal of which St. Benedict writes: “To their fellow monks, they show the pure love of [sisters]; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love.” (RB 72:8-9.)
Postscript: I love the way the light is shining on the dirty dishes in the picture above. It illustrates to me the way that simple acts of service, when undertaken with love, can shine with the Light of Christ. Here in the monastery, we all take turns with the various household chores, washing dishes being one of them. But it is never simply about getting a necessary task completed. Rather it is about the opportunity to serve one another in love.