I stopped short, confused. The sign read: “New Prairie Planting. This is no longer a trail.” But this was the path I always took, what had happened in my absence? As I continued walking, I encountered identical signs all over the north prairie of the monastery. The little meandering side paths I used to travel were no longer available to me. Instead a large central path had been recently mown, clearly directing the way I should go. The signs were evidence of a new trail design, but I couldn’t get past my frustration. Things had changed. I wanted what I’d known.
It’s been a little over two weeks since my graduation from Saint John’s University School of Theology with a Masters in Scripture. From packing my things, saying goodbye to friends and frantically turning in final papers and assignments, the last days of school passed in an emotional sleep-deprived blur. I knew I’d be grateful for some rest and a reunion with my community when I returned to the monastery, but beyond that, I wasn’t sure. Apart from breaks, I had been away for two years earning this degree. How much had I changed in that time? How much had the community changed? What would life together look like now? Beyond graduation, I couldn’t see too much further ahead. I was nervous about my return.
Over the years, walking the monastery grounds has been a way for me to process and pray, to get out of my head and into my body. In every season, the changing prairie landscape has a way of gently surprising me with its beauty and inviting me to deeper sight. There’s a soothing regularity to walking on paths so familiar that I barely need to look down because I know every dip and incline along the way. Like an old friend, I had been looking forward to coming back to this reliable welcome only to discover that the ground had shifted under my feet.
As I obediently walked along the only path available to me now, I started to consider what God might be saying through my sudden sense of grief. My formal education had come to an end, and the real work of living and loving lay ahead. Compared to the comparatively wide world of school, the monastic path suddenly seemed narrow. I was afraid, things were changing. In a tight spot, I often rely on my intellect over my feelings. But transitions can’t be intellectualized, they often need to be experienced in the body, felt into, lived out over a period of time.
The scripture readings this season speak well of transition. As we move through the days of Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, we have been reading through the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Each day, I am reminded of the early disciples struggling to make sense of a new reality. Christ had risen (Alleluia): but what would life hold now? What would keep this rag-tag community of disciples together when the physical reality of Jesus’ presence had passed into heaven? Would their stories, memories, relationships be enough? What was this gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, whom Jesus promised? Would it keep them safe from the deadly power of the Roman state, religious infighting, loneliness, poverty, disease?
So many questions, and little by way of answer, except this valuable consolation: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20) The testimony of scripture offers me a valuable lesson in the midst of transition. None of the disciples knew what the road ahead would look like, but they knew the One who would be walking with them. Despite their doubt and confusion, they could trust God to be with them on the way. And so can I.
I’ll miss the excitement of the classroom and some dear friendships, but I won’t miss the constant dread of deadlines, assignments and readings. There’s always some grieving to do during any transition, but there’s also so much to celebrate in graduation, a homecoming, and re-affirming relationships with my monastic community, Sunday Assembly, oblates, friends, and all the other people that call Holy Wisdom Monastery a spiritual home. I’m deeply grateful for the support I’ve received over the years from my monastic community and from all of you—who read those “letters home,” sent messages, cards and offered your encouragement. Thank you. I’m back now, so say a prayer for me and say hello!
Are you a single, Christian woman, 18-50, looking for a change or a taste of something different? Would you like to experience a bit of what first attracted Rosy to Holy Wisdom Monastery? We invite you to come for A Day Away, a one-day retreat, July 29, 2017 or November 4, 2017. Or come for a personal retreat on your own schedule. Come say hello to Rosy, spend a day or more with us, take a walk on the prairie and leave with a full heart.