Wooed by positive reviews, I went out to watch Gravity with a couple of the other Benedictine Sojourners (Yes, for those who wonder: it’s not all ora et labora at the monastery—sometimes we go to the movies!) Gravity has a simple plot: an accident at a space station detaches one of the astronauts from her shuttle, leaving her tumbling through empty space and struggling for survival. Alone and radically disconnected from everything that is life-sustaining, she desperately tries to find a handhold, anything to anchor her from floating away forever. In zero-gravity, where falling and flying are the same thing, which way is “up”? And how do you find your way “home”?
Long after the credits faded, the movie provoked discussion among us (see: Out there in faith). For me, it has offered a point of reflection, an opportunity to “bend back.” It has been two months since I arrived, and I’m just beginning to experience a sense of disconnection from my friends and family. It is difficult to stay in touch consistently. Even if I could, my deeper experiences are hard to explain or express—even to myself. It takes time and effort. Briefly untethered from my lifelines, the way I prop myself up in the world (professional connections, work, friendships, entertainment, social media networks, etc.), there are times when I feel that I am tumbling in outer space. No one can hear me. No one can see. No one knows. Here, at the monastery however, I cannot escape the true source of my anxiety: I am afraid to be forgotten, fearful of being left behind, unimportant—drifting away forever.
In my existential distress, I find myself clutching at the monastic schedule for a lifeline. The rigor of its form holds me up in the silence and keeps me upright. I anchor myself in its regularity. Five times a day, community prayer gathers me up in its arms and I am reminded of who I most deeply am and who I desire to be. The Word of God comes robed in song and speech, gifts to be given and received. Time is punctuated; eternity has a rhythm if I listen. In the dance between self and community, prayer and work, silence and speaking, the Liturgy of the Hours keeps us all in time to an underlying beat. In the oratory among others, I consistently find a handhold to keep me from drifting.
This is, of course, by design. As I have begun to learn in earnest, very little is left to accident in Benedict’s monastery. The more I look, the more I perceive of the care and attention that Benedictine life encourages in the everyday. The monastic schedule is designed to provide stability, order, a sense of normalcy, even (horrors!) predictability that firmly plants my feet on the ground. I cannot float away, disappearing into the ether: I am expected to follow the pattern of the daily along with the rest of the community. In alternating rhythm, each day, I move between prayer and working with my hands and study, going in turn from the oratory to library to kitchen or garden at the appointed time and without delay. Tethered to a shared sense of time in the monastery, the words of Isaiah 30:12 come alive for me:
Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
you will hear a voice behind you, saying,
“This is the way; walk in it.”
In the zero-gravity “school for the Lord’s service” that Benedict establishes, it is his “small Rule” that teaches all beginners to discover which way is up—and which way is home.
Follow this link to read more of Rosy’s posts: Living in Community – A Benedictine Sojourner’s Journey