Due to my recent travels out of state, I have had some extra quiet time spent quarantining in Benet Guest House, the older one of our retreat houses that is located just above our lake. During the coronavirus pandemic, our Sisters have agreed that if we travel outside the monastery (other than for rare and short visits to the doctor or to the store), we will quarantine for 14 days, so as not to expose our sisters to anything we might have picked up while traveling. I was away for a week tending to my responsibilities in the Federation of St. Scholastica. Then, I added two weeks for quarantine – it’s a chunk of time!
One of the things I have reflected on during this time is what St. Benedict writes about in Chapter 1 of the Rule about the kinds of monastics. The first kind of monastic identified, and the one for which the Rule is written, is the “cenobite, that is to say, those who belong to a monastery, where they serve under a rule and an abbot/prioress” (RB 1:2). The second kind of monastic, according to St. Benedict, is the hermit: “self-reliant, without the support of another, they are ready with God’s help to grapple single-handed with the vices of body and mind” (RB 1:3).
Being an extrovert (a rarity in our way of life) and drawn to social settings, I always have known that I was not made to be a hermit. However, I certainly admire those who have the dedication to live that life. While I can be “self-reliant,” I still need and want and appreciate ever so much the support of my Sisters in community. I am not ready, nor do I think I will ever be ready, to “grapple single-handedly” in God’s call to become holy. The truth is, I am shaped into a better person by living and praying among my Sisters. Certainly, I do not “blame” my sisters for my failings, but I do give them credit for calling me to be my best self among them.
The communal life which we live here at Sacred Heart Monastery is what I chose when I said yes to follow Christ according to the Rule of St. Benedict as lived here in Cullman. This communal life includes gathering together at times throughout the day and evening for the Liturgy of the Hours and for the celebration of the Eucharist. Gathering at the common table in our dining room is included in our shared way of life. Holding all things in common is essential to the way of life also; none of us owns anything personally, but everything is owned by the monastic community as a whole. Our life together includes making decisions as a community, led by the prioress and her council. These things are what I am missing during this time of quarantine. I am grateful it is only a temporary time away from our communal life. I miss it! I miss my Sisters! God is always present wherever I am. I know that. But it is much easier for me to sense that divine presence and to listen with the ear of my heart when we are gathered together in community life. After all, it is God whom I seek and who my Sisters in community seek. It is the Trinitarian God who draws us together in this monastic way of life, calling us to live in faith and love.
Of course, given my work in the larger Benedictine world, both nationally and internationally, these last years some would call me a “gyrovague,” another kind of monk described by St. Benedict. Gyrovagues are those “who spend their entire lives drifting from region to region, staying as guests for three or four days in different monasteries. Always on the move, they never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites” (RB 1: 10-11). Well, truth be told, most of my monastic life has not been spent “drifting”, but stably living here at Sacred Heart Monastery. I came to be a cenobitic monastic at Sacred Heart Monastery in 1981 and have been here ever since. Leadership work within our Benedictine order has been my ministry since 2014, and only since then have I found myself travelling from one monastery to another! And what a blessing this has been! Eventually, when my time of elected leadership has passed, I will settle back down here at Sacred Heart, where my heart is, and travel only occasionally. Until then, I still depend on my Sisters here at Sacred Heart to help steer me in the right ways of our monastic life, helping me to see the truth and to live in it. And, together, God will lead us all to everlasting life!
By Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie, OSB