For many years I was fortunate to visit a monastery near my home in western South Dakota. I attended retreats and workshops and contemplative prayer, Christmas concerts, daily liturgical practices.. Often I stayed a night or two for my own private retreats. I was the beneficiary of the hospitality for which Benedictines are famous. Saint Benedict, in the sixth century wrote his Rule of Benedict admonishing monks to “receive all guests as Christ.” It is such a gift to be received in this way. I can feel it the moment I drive on to the monastery grounds. There is a quiet; it feels as if all is in order. Sharing meals with several dozen nuns who are observing silence during Holy Week is humbling. Worshiping together reminds me that I'm taking part in rhythms that are centuries old. As a guest, I've been given help in following the order of service, invitations to visit the library, coffee and snacks in my room, time with an ageing nun who listens to the heaviness in my heart, encouragement to make the place my home – all generous, sincere and deeply meaningful ways of being received.
And being observer and participant in the ordinary of monastery life is delightful, too. I chuckle recalling one visit when I was sitting at dinner with the prioress and two other congenial nuns. Suddenly an outraged nun came over and bombarded the prioress with a detailed accounting of an argument running on and escalating between her and one of the other sisters. The outraged nun wanted the prioress on her side. Later walking together after dinner, the prioress confided to me in exasperation, “It’s like any other family. Sometimes I just want to send them all to their rooms for a time out!” In the midst of the holy is the secular.
Whether in a monastery, in our families, in our workplaces, in our community we have ample opportunity to observe the sacred and the secular. We are given many chances to receive each guest in our lives as Christ. We often miss these chances as we try instead to justify our own positions of “rightness.” In a Benedictine monastery, the Rule of Benedict is spoken daily; a constant reminder to have an attitude of grace and compassion. Welcoming each guest as Christ has nothing at all to do with the personality and the behavior of the guest. It has everything to do with the presence of Christ in our own hearts. It truly is a daily practice, a moment by moment discipline.
Right now in our calendar time, people the world over are celebrating Christmas, the birth of Christ. Some call it by other names – hannukkah, kwanzaa, winter solstice – and imbue the celebration with their own practices, some tied to other origins. Yet all of the celebrations set aside a time of generosity, of exchanging gifts, of being more kind to strangers, of forgiving debts, of enjoying the wonder as children waiting for Santa Claus. For each of us, this is our season, in our own individual way. The birth of Christ is the birth of Love in our hearts, the return of Love to a humble manger within. It all happens in a world of conflict, of war across the globe and in our families, of sorrow and lack and fear – in all our human places. And once again we are gifted with the sacred in the midst of the secular. We have ample opportunity to greet each other as Christ. May you grab hold of those chances and find the gifts waiting for you in return.
Namaste. . . . . Baraka Bashad. . . . . . May the blessings be. . . . .
winter folding inward upon herself
Spirit into spirit
Soul into soul
uncovers the Light
flings it outward in wildness
to soar upon broken wings
in this holy season may you find
Light ~ Truth ~ Hope
within and without
© 2012 phyllis boernke
* * * * * * * * * * * *