Guests bring a blessing

Lynne Smith, OSB Hospitality, Living in Community Leave a Comment


Sister Paz Vital, standing, welcomes the staff from Centro Hispano to the monastery.

The sisters at Holy Wisdom have received a lot of guests recently. We greet the groups who come to use our space for their meetings and retreats. We get to know personal retreatants over meals in the community dining room. When I first came to the monastery, as an introvert, I found it taxing to have new people with us at every meal. Now I look forward to meeting them.

Saint Benedict says that a monastery is never without guests. Indeed, we wouldn’t really be a Benedictine monastery without guests. We are called to provide hospitality and serve others. Benedict also writes in his Rule that guests bring a blessing. We have been blessed richly by the guests we have gotten to know recently.

For two days at the end of April we hosted 200 people for a Mindful Self-Compassion training brought to Madison by UW Integrative Health. Our coworkers worked hard to provide for the needs of the guests. People from around the country and as far away as Hawaii attended. The presenters and many of the participants expressed their appreciation for the beauty of the space, for the nourishing food, for our hospitality, openness and care for the earth.

The following week we hosted the staff from Centro Hispano where Sister Paz is doing her ministry practicum for her studies in Hispanic theology and ministry. The staff was excited to learn about Holy Wisdom Monastery and the opportunities for prayer, retreats and walking the trails. Many plan to return.

That same week we provided the morning program for the Servant Leadership class from the UW Extension. Toby Grabs, one of our coworkers, gave them a tour of our facility, and I offered a presentation on how the values of listening and collaboration have guided the sisters’ leadership over the years. This group holds its classes at the monastery every semester because of their resonance with the values here.

Two of Sister Joanne’s nieces visited us for a few days of relaxation. We received a number of new members at Sunday Assembly and have gotten to know personal retreatants (Baptist, Episcopal, Evangelical, Presbyterian, Methodist and others) from Madison, Middleton, Appleton, Chicago, Champaign, IL and other places.

At the May Sacred Citizenship event we learned about the Wisconsin Farmers’ Union and the efforts family farmers in Wisconsin to advocate for sustainable prices for themselves in a market dominated by corporate farming. We hosted about 75 people at the reception for Lisa Seidman’s photography exhibit entitled Beneath the Surface.

When people ask what we do at the monastery, one of the things we tell them is that we provide hospitality and receive guests. That often doesn’t sound much like “work.” However, it is surprising how much energy hospitality takes on the part of the sisters, the coworkers and many volunteers. I have come to think of our hospitality as holding the space for others to do the inner or outer work that brings them to the monastery.

Occasionally our guests will tell us of the work they do while here. They write or paint or dream. They grieve or celebrate or sleep. They walk or sit or work on the prairie and woods. They plan for change or recover from too much change. They come home to themselves and to the love that holds us all. They bless us with their presence. I am grateful for our guests. I hope to see you at the monastery!

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