By Grace Vosen
These were the first words out of my mouth as I read the Summer Stewards program schedule. I wasn’t familiar with that item – and I was unsure if I should take it seriously. Was it a cute joke, or a solemn Benedictine tradition?
I soon learned that the sisters had chosen this phrase to help us see the benefits that leisure could offer. We could use this time for anything, and it didn’t have to refresh us spiritually. But sometimes it might. All we had to do was be open to whatever happened: walking, swimming, meditating, reading or resting.
The three of us in my cohort were open to all of these possibilities. While we came from different backgrounds and had different goals for the week, we shared a desire to grow. We wanted to live more intentionally and deepen our spirituality. Our paths had converged at Holy Wisdom. The community welcomed us with kindness and a sincere interest in our stories.
For the next week, we were immersed in monastery life. We attended prayer, ate meals with the sisters and other retreatants, and shared in chores. The fresh vegetables we harvested in the morning became the dinner we enjoyed in the evening. We helped with restoration efforts on the prairie and in the pines. Everyone had a part to play, and it seemed that everyone worked together well.
Similarly, we learned how the buildings work with the landscape to support a Benedictine way of life. The property seemed like a world in itself. It caused me to think about how I could continue using my talents to serve this community.
And indeed, our “holy leisure” time complemented the scheduled activities. I spent much of it sitting outside and gazing across Lake Mendota, and just as much napping in my room. Although it felt unproductive, the quiet let me process my thoughts in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if the whole day had been scheduled.
It was clear that my housemates also valued these times. Often, in the space between leisure and an activity, we would walk to or from Anna’s House in silence and let the beauty of the land speak to each of us.
Another time when we were encouraged to be open was during Centering Prayer, which was held in the mornings and evenings. We each chose a short word that represented our openness to what God might have to tell us. My word was “still”, as in quiet. I greatly appreciated the chance to be still along with other people who understood stillness.
It is in the stillness, in the moments of silence between psalms, and in the unscheduled times that some of the greatest revelations come our way. It was hard for me to quiet my mind, but not all of the thoughts that intruded were unwelcome. Some have transformed the way I view myself, my relationships, and my role in the world. I simply needed to be open to it.
Grace Vosen was part of the July 2022 Summer Stewards program. She is a naturalist and writer living in Spring Green. Read her blog at DriftlessGrace.com.