Please respect the fence

Rosy Kandathil, OSB A Benedictine Sojourner's Journey, Living in Community 8 Comments

Prospect Park - my tree smI have a tree in New York City.

It lives in Prospect Park, not far from my apartment in Brooklyn. Over the years, I cannot recount how many times I headed there when I felt confused, afraid, direction-less. Sitting under its broad branches, I sought solace and a place to pray. My tree always seemed to welcome me into quiet contemplation: “Don’t run. Don’t be afraid. Stay rooted. Offer your life gently—in every season—as a steady and consistent witness of God.” Strange as it may sound, I like to think of this tree as my first monastic teacher in Benedictine spirituality.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a special place, a place apart where you can plant your deepest prayers and find a quiet companionship with the world and all creation. Some folks call it a “thin place” or “holy ground,” where the boundaries between the present and the eternal fall away, drawing us quite naturally into God’s close embrace. There, we might catch the divine whisper beneath all hardship: “all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” (Julian of Norwich).

In my short time at Holy Wisdom Monastery, I have observed with curiosity and wonder, the many guests that come through the monastery’s doors. Every day, from all over the country, people come for personal and group retreats, prayer, spiritual direction, to share a meal or simply for a few hours of quiet respite. The monastery welcomes them all. “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ,” Benedict says. Many of these guests come again and again, citing their experience at the monastery as life-changing.

In our faith formation classes with Sister Lynne Smith, we have been discussing the over-arching Benedictine value of “hospitality” and, in particular, how the community here expresses its welcome. The very building and every room in the monastery is designed to affirm simplicity, silence, reverence. The intention is that even without words, every guest would experience Divine Love through the quiet welcome of the space. The monastery is meant to provide a “thin place” for the world, set apart. In a world full of noise and foment, it takes great care to preserve a still and holy and quiet place. For the sojourners, this means that our own daily practice of stillness, solitude, prayer and community life contributes to the mission of this place. It may sound paradoxical, but sometimes as Jesus says we must “come away to a lonely place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31) before we may offer anyone else refreshment in their journey.

Prospect Park Sign smBefore I left New York, I noticed signs in the park cordoning off large sections of the grass: “Please do not enter. Lawn restoration in progress. Please respect the fence.” I had to laugh. Was this God’s way of reminding me that all things need a time and a place apart? The fence seemed to provide a kind of monastic enclosure, a border of protection for the careful work of restoration. The expert gardeners knew what they were doing. Please respect the fence.


Follow this link to read Rosy’s earlier posts:  Living in Community – A Benedictine Sojourner’s Journey



Comments 8

  1. We should hang a sign on NLF’s door: “Please enter. People restoration in progress”! =) Now I know what Forest Park is when I walk there on Saturdays or Sundays after service — it’s my “thin place”. You write beautifully. God travels on your prose. See you soon.

    1. Thanks, Tony! I like hearing about other people’s “thin places” — glad to hear that Forest Park has been providing that solace to you. Look forward to catching up soon as well!

  2. I am just now reading your blogs, Rosy! They all resound with finding God in all things! St. Ignatius of Loyola, ha! They are beautiful spiritual reflections. Many blessings! God is good all the time!

    1. Thanks, Sr. Margaret! It’s true: I am finding God in all things… and appreciating my Ignatian formation more and more in this Benedictine community!

  3. Hmm…dunno why your new post didn’t show up on my Newsfeed as I look forward to reading about your experience. Please Respect the Fence – mmmmm….I just wrote about craving rest and would love to visit a monastery soon. Keep writing, Rosy!

  4. Thanks, Jihee–You would be a welcome guest should you ever choose to make a retreat out here! 🙂 I think you would deeply appreciate the kind of rest that is offered at a monastery, and there are some on the East Coast that you might check out even sooner…

  5. As you live into your “new normal” there Pete and I are living into ours here. It is an adjustment…I am heeding God’s invitation for more “empty spaces” in my life “where the boundaries between the present and the eternal fall away, drawing me quite naturally into God’s close embrace. There, I might catch the divine whisper beneath all hardship.” Now if I could just snap my fingers and make the traffic and crowds of NYC like rural Wisconsin ….ahhh, that would be heavenly. Much love.

  6. Well, Geri, you would be welcome to come rest awhile at Holy Wisdom should you wish to truly get away and see what Wisconsin offers! (There’s great beer out here, if that will lure you.) Or I could give you a map to my tree in NYC… 🙂 If there is anyone who knows how to enjoy the period of exploration–it’s you. Here’s to this stage of your spiritual adventure! Much love back.

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