When I told people I was coming to Benedictine Women of Madison the first question I got after “What’s that?” was, “Why would you want to go to a monastery?” Why indeed? . . . Basically, I was searching for God…or more specifically, an understanding of what I believe is God. God and I had been fighting and I missed God. I wanted it to be like old times. So when the opportunity came for me to go live with some nuns I thought the monastery was as good a place as any to try and reestablish that connection. The first move, the first phone call to a long-lost friend.
At the end of two weeks time I can say I definitely have found something, although God it isn’t. Yet. I have found a bridge. Being here has served as a kind of mediator between me and the idea of God I am searching for. Being here with these women, nuns and non-nuns has opened me up to the possibility that the God I have been missing might be closer than I think. Slowly, very slowly, I am connecting the dots. Humor, flexibility, and patience I am realizing, in the way I perceive life is going a long ways to helping draw those lines. All these qualities are best exemplified in the sisters themselves as they go about their work here at Holy Wisdom. All of our assumptions about nuns have been challenged, I think, since coming to the monastery.
The sisters themselves are very merry and seem to truly enjoy life and their vocation. . . . They are generally soft-spoken, thoughtful, witty, and a joy to be around. The sisters pray and chant with us, they attend classes and seminars, meetings and retreats, and also do outside work. I have seen Sister Mary David mow the lawn and Sister Joanne running errands, while Sister Lynne maintains much of the garden.
The sisters also practice the gracious art of Hospitality. A dying art in our times, Hospitality means truly opening one’s living space to another and giving to them the best of what you have. The sisters have hosted fellow nuns from all over the world to come and live and study with them. Kenya, South Korea, and China are some of the places they have received guests from. They have also hosted refugee families and opened the monastery to various people needing time to get back on their feet.
The peace of the prairie environment is only one of the many gifts the sisters and staff at Holy Wisdom offer whomever comes through their doors. Food, that most timeless and incredible symbols, is another one of their gifts. It is hard to devote yourself to work or prayer or meditation or even sleep when you are hungry, and the kitchen at Holy Wisdom consistently churns out amazing dishes, many made with the sisters own produce. . . .
The people at Holy Wisdom are truly compassionate and considerate. There is a schedule of a balance of work, prayer, meditation, and study but there is also time for fun and fellowship, for “down time” and just “rest time”. . . .
People’s biorhythms are taken into account and no one is asked to do more than they are able or inclined to do in good cheer. Responsibilities are evenly shared with no one shirking their part. When weather or illness prevents something from being done or someone to do it, another steps in to take the place or another task is done while we wait for the sun to come back. There is a commitment it seems, to “going with it”. I am learning to “go with it” too. Those who come to Holy Wisdom seem to be committed to living The Golden Rule in their everyday interactions. People do what they can when they can and seem to take joy in making each other’s burdens lighter, always asking if you need help or if there is something, anything they can do. I am in awe of how this place works like clockwork and there is an aura of harmony wherever you go, inside and out. . . .
I am encouraged to participate in the abundance of life here at Holy Wisdom –even when it seems as if what I am being asked to is a hardship it is for my happiness that it is meant. It is to wake up early, which will permit me to see the sun and to enjoy the sweet singing of my fellow humans in the early hours. It is to only be provided with healthy food –not junk– to allow my mind and body to grow and to be able to fully embrace the work of the day. Maybe I am asked to work on some group project so I can appreciate the time and preparation that goes into maintaining both the building and the people of the community. Or to be asked to participate in community activities and events so I do not spend too much time alone to get wrapped up in my own neurosis. Perhaps it is to go to bed early so I can arise refreshed and not exhausted for the day ahead and be in a better mood for the others I will celebrate the day with.
In this understanding I do not feel deprived but almost gently nudged toward a better Way. The Way the sisters have taken is not the way for everyone and nor is it the path I choose for myself, but it is a good path. True, it is a path that has been made for me and not by me and one that I am meant to respect as long as I am here. And there is some need in our lives to explore and to blaze our own trails, but that way is not for everybody. This more contemplative life is beautiful for those who choose it and fits them to a tee. It is a path explored by generations and experimented with over centuries in order to find the method that works the best. The Benedictine way of life exists here to offer peace to those who seek it. It is not the peace we would make up but the timeless peace of ages and tradition. The security and protection of knowing that there are many ways of defining “freedom”.
I do not, nor does anyone here, feel forced to do anything here at Holy Wisdom. Personally, I find myself running toward this perfectly harmonious balance of the best of what makes me human. A Way not of mindless TV programs, endless cans of soda, the pursuit of the latest gadget, perpetual exhaustion, hamster-wheel antics, the obsessing over a job I might hate, and insomnia, but of Perfect Peace. A Way that is finely, beatifically in tune with my spirit and one in which what is best for me will not be something I will have to force upon myself but one I can grab with both hands and hug to myself knowing it will bring Balance and Harmony to everything I do, everyone I meet, and everything I am.
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For additional excerpts from Sarah’s on-going blog, click on this link: A Confirmed City Girl looks for God in a Monastery