If you can look past the beauty of the monastery grounds, ignore the antique woodwork in Ottilia Hall, turn down the volume on the chanting of Psalms, and take a really good look around, you will see that the monastery is a veritable wonderland of galvanized pipes.
They are seemingly everywhere, in creative uses that have nothing to do with plumbing. For the most part, they are tastefully hidden in utilitarian areas traversed mainly by Sisters and staff. But if guests look closely, they, too, will see a bit of piping popping up here and there.
There is the handrail that goes up the back kitchen steps…the T-shaped anchor of a clothesline…work tables crafted from sheets of stainless on frames of galvanized pipe…a modest fence that ushers pedestrians along a sidewalk instead of across a bed of wildflowers, and on and on… It is like a master craftsman’s gallery exhibit of pipes put together with elbow joints, y-joints, t-joints, and joints so unique that they may not even have a name.
Although it is a wonderland of ingenuity and steel – most if not all of it crafted by a maintenance man who worked for the community for decades – it is truly barely noticeable. It’s simply the handrail that you grab as you pull yourself up after sitting on the steps petting Kitty B. Or the clothesline pipe with the small bird nest just inside the open end and Sr. Eileen’s hanging basket dangling from the other. Or the quirky lines of the up, sideways, and down railing between Mary Hall and Joseph Hall. Or the galvanized legs that support tables upon which gazillions of vegetables have been peeled and sliced…
None of this piping is particularly noticeable. It is just there – reliable but unassuming, strong but humble. One set of table legs is so strong that it can support the weight of dozens of pots and pans with only three of its four legs actually touching the floor. It wears its miracle strength with such quiet dignity that it is not even noticeable that one leg stops about 2 inches shy of the others. The frame doesn’t even wobble.
This wonderland of galvanized steel is not so much about the creative adaptability of a thrifty craftsman (working for thrifty Sisters!). Rather, the wonder is the quiet strength that supports our day-to-day life with such humility, like an eternal understudy content to let the light fall on the beauty that surrounds it.
It’s kind of like the quiet strength that underlies monastic life. What others may notice is the external beauty of liturgical prayer and the joyful witness of ministry. Yet for each of us Sisters, our true ‘wonder world’ – that which quietly supports everything else that we do – consists of the humble hours of solitude that each of us spends in prayer, in devotion, in scripture study, and in spiritual reading. This time apart with God is unseen, unnoticed, but it is truly the ‘structural steel’ that undergirds our life and ministry.
The eye may be drawn to the beauty of the monastery and the ear to the sounds of chanted prayer. But if you can look past the beauty of the grounds, ignore the antique woodwork, turn down the volume, and take a really good look around, you will see that the monastery is a wondrous world of the simple, humble strength that comes from a lifetime of prayer and praise. We are understudies to God’s strength, letting His light, power, and beauty shine forth in this hurting, fractured – yet wonderful – world.