In Praise of Ordinary Times: What the monastery teaches us about finding the sacred in the ordinary

Our time at the monastery is ending. After all, we have been at the monastery since last year!

It has been a time full of discovery and praying the psalms with the sisters. Embraced by their warmth we walked with them through the 12 Days of Christmas, towards the threshold of the new year, then beyond it, giving honor to the full season of Christmas until Epiphany. As I have practiced to embrace this season through the eyes of a child, I now found myself watching with regret as a crew took the Christmas trees from the gathering hall. And look, also the manger is gone! It went with all its characters back into storage for the year.  

In my child-like sadness, and my desire to hold onto Christmas, I learned a lesson that the liturgical year teaches: letting go of what we have come to love and embracing the ordinary time, those long stretches between the feast times.

After times of excitement and Hallelujah chorus, comes the mundane task of mothering the inborn child. Or as a tale from the monastery has it, of: falling down and getting up...

Still, the monastery keeps it's rhythm, practiced and proved over a thousand years. Soon there was evening prayer to attend, and the structure of the monastic day pulled us back into the rhythm of our ordinary work.  

 My "writing cell" at  Studium  at Saint Benedict's Monastery, MN.  Photo: A. Furchert 2017

My "writing cell" at Studium at Saint Benedict's Monastery, MN.  Photo: A. Furchert 2017

 

Sanctifying our daily work

The early desert fathers, hermits in search of God, taught their disciples the practice of seeing God in every thing – in all what surrounds us. This theme is echoed by Benedict in his guidance for those who would live in monastic communities.  He assigns someone to care for the tools of the monastery (for us, the snow shovels and brooms, the kitchen utensils, even the manger scene and the hand cart used to carry it off). Benedict instructs that all those tools of ordinary work should be treated like the vessels of the altar. Even the vessels in the wine cellar:

“Let him regard all the vessels of the monastery and all its substance, as if they were sacred vessels of the altar."
 

I have found that every task and every chore can be sanctified this way. It is not so much about what we do but how we do it which decides on its value.  I am glad to be blessed with a husband who practices contemplation while washing the dishes. I, in turn, do enjoy watching him do so :-)

Too often these days we think about our work as career only, and it is easy to fall in this trap. But the Benedictines remind us that all work is valuable, not only the one which brings in a proper pay check or status. And that each work can be done in service to the community and to the higher good.

A person must translate the eternal values into one’s own life.
— after Martin Buber

Understood this way it is not only the daily work which gives us purpose, but the Divine task which gives purpose to our daily work.

We have also found that the Benedictine ora et labora approach, pray and work, has worked well with our writing project we brought to Studium to work on in our interim break.

The monastic rhythm helped us structure our work days. The shared morning, noon and evening prayers were welcome breaks in the work day and the meals offered community and encouragement.

The sisters have warmly embraced us from the beginning and being able to share not only their prayer times but also their meals with them has been nurturing to us in body and soul.

 

how TO continue a monastic life coming back to our own life?

We still wonder about that. Will we sing the psalms at home like we do with the sisters? Three times a day?

Will we keep a healthy rhythm between vita activa and vita contemplativa, the active and contemplative parts of the day? Will we moderate work, and leisure, and pleasure?

Surely the monastic life outside of the monastery is different. It has its own beauty and its own difficulties. We are still exploring ways of monastic living as a couple.

 

How do you live the ordinary times? Do you have a contemplative practice? Do you share it with some one? 

 

We are eager to learn from you.

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