The last two blog posts were marked by a big shift in tonality. First, there was the mournful tone of shared sorrow in “Oh, Shenandoah.” And then “Treasure,” with its serious meaning yet somewhat whimsical tone.
As I wrote and posted “Treasure” I felt the contrast and it was actually a bit difficult to post. Yet the contrast tells us something important about the nature of our life in monastic community. This monastic venture calls us to dive headlong into the fullness of a shared life in which we engage deeply with an entire range of tonalities, sometimes all at once. One Sister may have a soaring achievement just as another receives unwelcome news. We rejoice and mourn nearly with the same breath.
When we enter monastic community we have the challenge of weaving our personal tonalities – joy and sorrow, solemnity and whimsy, and everything in between – into the larger fabric of the community. We learn to make room for the warp and weft of other Sisters and of the community as a whole. This, of course, is not unique to monastics, yet our monastic commitment to stability means that we continually engage with the full spectrum of human tonalities in a very intentional manner for the long stretch of a lifetime.
It may not make logical sense, but this life of seeking God and the things of heaven actually pulls us deeper into our own humanity and the humanity of others. Even as we seek to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ, we are called to live fully our gift of life on earth, enter fully into our vocation, and encounter the fullness of God’s creation through creative work and self-giving ministry.
Experiencing the fullness of our humanity with its many tones of sorrow and joy, solemnity and whimsy, is not merely a matter of shifting from one to the other and back again. It also involves the important spiritual work of seeing one tone in light of the other. When I rejoice over the accomplishments of a Sister, I rejoice in light of the Sister who just received sorrowful news. My joy is not diminished. Instead, my heart is called to expand to encompass the sorrow too. Fullness of life in Christ calls us to an expansive and generous heart, and eyes which see the whole of life – with its warp and weft, its complex tonalities, and its hues both subtle and vivid – in light of the fullness of God’s transforming love.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell there… Ps. 24:1
Postscript: A particular way in which we encounter the breadth of human experience is in our daily chanting of the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours. The language of the Psalms encompasses the breadth of human emotion before God – from the deepest of laments to joyful cries of praise. And it is the Psalms that help teach us to bear the often swift changes of current in our lives. Psalms of lament invariably end with an expression of praise, thanksgiving, and/or confidence in God’s salvation. Fullness, indeed.