When I was in formation for community life, Sr. Joanne would say to me on occasion, ”The environment will teach you.” At first, I took this as referring to the outdoor environment. I knew this to be true before I came to the monastery. To walk in the woods or in a park, to spend time working in the garden or simply sitting outside listening to the birds and crickets is healing for me. The sounds of nature calm me down when the noise of machinery or too many words have set me on edge.
When I sit by Lost Lake, I take in the stillness of the calm waters. The stability of the white oak tree firmly rooted and reaching to the sky to support the creatures among its branches reminds me of God’s faithfulness and strengthens my stability. The beauty and diversity of the prairie teach me about hospitality to all.
Soon, however, I realized Joanne wasn’t just talking about the natural environment, she was referring to the whole of the monastic environment as teacher. My experience teaches me this is true too. The silence in the monastery draws me deeper inside and stills my inner voices so I can better hear God’s voice. The simplicity and beauty of the décor quiets my nervous system and calls my attention to the presence of the holy around me. The white walls of the Assembly room and its simple design focus my attention on the people gathered in the space as icons of Christ.
The rhythm of life in the monastery also teaches me. Laying down my work and gathering with the community and guests several times throughout the day teaches me that my work is not the be all and end all of my life. Prayer reminds me again and again of the purpose of my life which is to seek God.
If you have read Volunteer in Community Sarah Noceda’s blog posts or Sara Jo Emmerich’s blog posts from this summer you have seen how the monastic environment can transform a person’s life. Of course, it doesn’t happen automatically. But when one enters into the rhythm of prayer and work and reflects on one’s experiences, insight and a deepening of one’s inner life occurs.
I enjoy being a facilitator and a witness to this each summer during the Volunteer in Community program. This transformation is one of the aspects I love about the monastic life. It’s one of the reasons we have such a passion about passing on the Benedictine way of life. Anyone who shows up and participates in the monastic environment is changed.
I suspect that everyone of you reading this has also experienced some inner transformation through your participation at Holy Wisdom Monastery. I’d like to hear your story of how the environment has taught you. Share your story with us either by leaving a comment or sending me an email and we will post them here as we are able. If you haven’t been to the monastery, I invite you to come experience it for yourself.