Submitted by Hannah Keziah Agustin
In the beginning of our day, there is silence. We center ourselves on the presence of God in the basement of Holy Wisdom Monastery’s main building at 7:30 in the morning, our chairs facing toward each other as we pray. Outside of the windows, the prairie sprawls with the bloom of a Wisconsin summer – bergamot, coneflowers and butterfly milkweed decorate the fields in the day’s early sun. Here, Benedictine sisters, retreatants and community members gather for the hearing of the liturgy, the singing of worship and the reading of God’s word. Here, we come expectant.
I signed up for the Summer Steward experience to get a glimpse of monastic life. I’m curious about learning the contemplative rhythms of work and prayer as a young adult who is new to the 9-to-5 and who wants to be faithful to Christ in my job. I live on the other side of Lake Mendota, working on the editorial team for InterVarsity, an interdenominational campus ministry that serves colleges across the nation. I visited the monastery on a retreat day organized by the spiritual foundations department at our workplace. Since I attended, I have felt compelled to return. So, when I saw that they had put together a retreat where we could learn about ecospirituality, Benedictine values and creation care, I knew it was something I didn’t want to miss.
For one week, six women came together to live communally. We ate together, prayed together and slept together. We harvested vegetables from the garden, weeded out invasive species in the prairie and washed dishes in the kitchen after every meal. Most importantly, we learned together what it means to listen – to God, to nature, to our community and to ourselves. “Listen, O child,” says St. Benedict in his Rule. First and foremost, he teaches the importance of heeding to the call of our surroundings, to attend to them with the ear of our heart.
This act of listening connects us with the Divine, our neighbors and our world. This is our beacon in a society that is rife with racial injustice, colonial wars and environmental degradation. It is inescapable. We arrived at the monastery with the smoke from the wildfires in Canada filling the air. But every day, in prayer, we remember those affected by worldly evils and choose to put our hope in Christ. In every meal, we remember those who do not have enough and expect miraculous provisions to come their way. In every reading of Benedict’s teachings, we learn the value of simplicity, hospitality and justice. The spiritual disciplines we did in community helped us to remember the call to rest in God amidst the trials and tribulations we face in our world.
Monasticism taught us to consider the essentials of life – to hold close to our hearts the things that matter most. It taught us to be in a posture of acceptance, which is required when one truly listens. Whether we were discussing an article about ecospirituality and womanist theology or spending our time outdoors during our holy leisure, we saw the beauty of openness. In addition to that, monastic life taught us to be attuned to the connectedness of all things.
When polarization divides us, we are reconciled by our ability to see one another as beloved. Living in the monastery showed us how integrated our humanity is to one another. This is something we should never forget. I cannot help but meditate on this whenever we bow our heads to pray.
In the beginning of our day, there is silence. But at the same time, there is also the clear and compelling voice of Jesus saying, “Behold, I make all things new.” His icon hung on the wall of the prayer room with these words written on the scroll in his hands. These are the words that I pondered in my heart as the week went on. The Summer Stewards retreat gave me an assurance that it is possible to have faith because Jesus is making all things new – amidst the terror of living. I am reminded of this when I look at the flowers that bloom in the prairie, signaling the genesis of this newborn hope.