There are things I will miss about Holy Wisdom when I leave here. I will miss the cardinals that sing the Liturgy of the Hours back and forth to each other in the pines as I rinse lettuce in the upper garden. I will miss pulling out the horsetails from the roof garden and hearing Paul talk about his love of the Prairie. I will miss the pioneer camaraderie that has developed among the women I stay with, the shared jokes and laughter. I will miss the order and the rhythm of my days here — the mystic feeling of the timeless tasks we have engaged in…gardening, tending an orchard, cooking, preparing food, protecting the land, singing and sharing with one another. I will miss the security of the sisters’ life experience to guide me, and the soothing presence of the monastery building itself. But it is time to go home.
This last week we have had the good fortune to encounter the monastery beekeeper, Jean. We watched from the safe distance of her truck as she “split a hive”. . . . The bees, she explained to us later, know instinctively when it is time to split — to go off and form a new hive with a new queen. She modeled the “starter hive” now encased in glass for us and pointed out the new queen developing, which bees were doing what and how they were going about cleaning their cells, feeding the new bees, and communicating furiously to other bees through terpsichorean rhythms.
Bees are curious in that for them, community is the only way they can live, there is no such thing as a single bee. A bee without community is a dead bee, it cannot live or survive for even a short time without a hive, a place to go back to where there is food and warmth and shelter and other bees. No bee is an island. In that way, they are as unlike a human being as anything ever can be. Bees don’t seem to have the luxury or the hubris to assume they can be alright without others of their kind. They know it just doesn’t work like that. Bees need each other.
I don’t think it — being apart from one another — works that way for us either, as much as we might try to trick ourselves into believing it can or does. . . . Why do we keep trying to convince ourselves we don’t need each other? Where is the virtue in eschewing a hive of our own? A place where we belong, where we fit in and where we are cared for? A place where we truly feel useful, comfortable, and happy doing what we know best? Rugged individualism may work for the odd few…but I’ll take hive-dwelling. And not the hive-dwelling of conformity or automaton-like behavior…not like that. But the hive-dwelling of community, a place for everything and everyone. A place where we really see each other, and we really interact with the benefit of all of us in mind.
The last day at the monastery we received a blessing from all the members of the community. Standing at the large, granite baptismal font, we were given a prayer and a wish for good things for our future, for love and wisdom to follow us in our life’s journey. It was a small thing, this blessing, taking all of 15 minutes. I felt slightly embarrassed and sheepish and awed all at once. But it was no small thing to have people who have only known you a month, who have spent their whole lives working for the good of all people, and searching for that same goodness in others . . . it is no small thing to be blessed by them. . . .
Did I find God there, on the Prairie? Did I come away with “the Knowing” I was searching for? Did God and I make up? The answers are maybe, a little, and yes. For all three questions. I don’t know what God is but . . . yes, God was on the Prairie. . . . And God is in me, even if I don’t recognize it. And the “Knowing”? I guess I may have to accept it as a lifelong quest. . . . God and I have made up, definitely. Although it’s still in the beginning stages, we have reformed our friendship. I look forward to getting to know God better and to opening myself up more to God. Fair is fair. . . .
The image that came to my mind over and over again . . . was that of a God being a parent who has one child on their lap getting cuddles, with another child trying to push that child off so they can then sit on the same lap and get the cuddles for themselves. . . . I have no children but I do know from talking to parents…if you want to use that metaphor…there is always Love. And there is more than enough for everyone, and it will never run out, and it will never be conditional. That is what has always existed and will always exist, and maybe we will never know who or what or where it comes from.
Love is timeless and unending and constant and loyal. It exists for us to share with each other, where it comes from, we may never know. . . . Does it matter why we love? Or does it only matter that we do love? It is the greatest gift, this gift of loving another. Taking the love we are born to give and communicating it to another human being. It is what we are here for, what we search for all our lives, what we hold most dear.
That is what I have taken from my time here at Holy Wisdom Monastery. And I will take it with me wherever I go. That is God. And that is the Knowing.
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For the entire collection of excerpts from Sarah’s on-going blog, click on this link: A Confirmed City Girl looks for God in a Monastery