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Tag: monastic life

stitching in the quietude

light coming in at the edges

before this day ends, i will be tucked in a sleeping chamber in an old and timeless seminary. it will be an unadorned cell — a bed, a wood-slabbed floor, maybe a window.

i am driving to the woods — and the great stone seminary, nestled along a lake — to give my soul the air time it so deeply needs. it’s been too long. decades and decades since i slid into a many-chambered monastic place, and stayed the night. since i fell asleep under rough-hewn sheets, listened to the silence all around, heard the whispers of my deepest soul cry out.

i’m long overdue. of that, i’m certain. monasteries and abbeys have been calling out to me for years. please come, they beckon. please rest your weary soul. yet i’ve not obliged. not wholly, anyway.

oh, i’ve popped in from time to time, knelt down, kindled wicks in rows of vigil lights. but not surrendered into the seamless timelessness of true retreat, the respite from everyday cacophony.

when we lived for a year in cambridge, mass., there was a great grey stone monastery, tucked along a bend in the charles river, shadowed behind a stand of sycamores, and i wove it often into my daily meanderings. my hours there were holy. were hushed. the alchemy of candle smoke, infused with incense, infused with long-robed monks chanting morning prayer, it catapulted me toward that place where prayers stir deep and deeper.

and now it’s time for immersion into silence.

that this quiet interlude, one i invited in months ago, is coming now, amid a week of hallelujah mixed with jitters, it’s blessed timing. from sundown to sundown i’ll be washed in quiet. in listening to the prayerful wisdoms of the fine soul who’s convened the gathering, whose lifework is inviting in quietude. reminding us — all of us — that we need equal measures noise and silence. that our hectic lives beg for the punctuated pause. that we etch in time for absorbing, for soaking in the holiness that’s always all around.

it comes just before that swirl of passover and holy week, an intermingling in this house that has us marking ancient story and eternal truth. it comes amid a springtime that’s unfurling abundantly, with blessings all around.

it comes just hours from now.

and i am quieting already…

may you all find at least a spot of quietude this day, this close of another week. 

how do you respond when you’re called into the deep that comes with no noise?

and a magnificent thank you to every blessed chair sister and blessed friend who scaffolded my heart, kept my knees from buckling last night, at the “birthing” of Motherprayer. whether you were there, in the charmed and quirky bookstore, or sending whispers from afar, you somehow propelled me through. it all always begins here, where roots grow deeper by the day. xoxo

a monk’s life

no, people, this is not some new year’s diet prescription. not the bread-and-water plan to a more minimalist you. no, no, not at all.

rather, this is my new year’s confession.

huddle up close, here, and perk up your ears.

what i’ve got to say might befuddle you. might leave you scratching your noggin. or perhaps you, too, share the same yearnings, and you and i shall skip off to behind some walled garden, a place of prayer and bells chiming, of bread and water. and surely some wine.

oh, but that’s getting ahead of the confession.

so, come, come, step here in the little black box, kneel down beside me, and listen in.

the fact of my matter is that beneath all the trappings that make me out to look like just another mama on the leafy shore of chicago–the old swedish wagon, the red-flowered backpack that bops behind me wherever i go, the grocery list that never seems to end, the curly gray curls i keep forgetting to color–well, underneath it all beats the soul of a monk.

i’m convinced, increasingly, and much to the dismay of my boys–the tall one who calls me his wife, and the others who call me their mama–that really i belong in the friary.

i’ve no desire, curiously, to go to the nunnery. somehow i think it more joyful off where the monks do their monking.
i find myself dreaming of days all alone. of unbroken quiet. of tending a small patch of earth. of growing nearly all that i swallow. and milking the rest from a fine little goat. or a cow i might name little flower.

i dream of simple repasts–bread, cheese, a chunky fine soup. salad i’d started from seedlings. and the bread, too, would be made from my hands, my fingers pressed into the slow-rising flesh of the yeast and the flour.

drawn as i am to the dawn, i think i’d adjust quite without ruffle to the prayer of the earliest morn, the one the monks call matins. the one where the night meets the daybreak, at the hour the celts and the seers deem thinnest–or closest, really, to heaven.

i already dress day-after-day as if in a habit. i’m nearly all black, with a little white tee. and if i think of it, i do slip on socks. but often i’m barefoot. (don’t tell my mother, but i’m sockless even in snowboots sometimes.) all i need is a rope round my middle, tied in a long line of knots–one for each prayer i need to remember–and i’ve got the garb for the job.

the best part of being a monk, besides the hours and hours of quiet–oh, and the chanting, the gregorian fly-me-to-the-moon prayers that soar from the old wooden pews to the holy on high–is that a monk’s is a life of quotidian moments and tasks, each and all distinctly imbued with the sacred.

to till the soil is to make way for the seed, to witness the infinite mystery unfolding. to leaven the dough is to consider the miracle of rising again. to kindle the wick of the bee-bundled wax is to bring light to the darkness.

over and over, again and again, from the dawn to the dusk, under sunlight or moon, not an everyday chore is left without purpose divine.

and that, in the end, is a virtue to which i’d turn over the whole of my soul.

now, of course, i’ll not ever discard this life that is mine. this life that is messy, that’s filled with the joys and the sorrows of being a mother, a friend, and a lover in so many ways.

but i do think there always will be a part of my heart that yearns for the life i imagine on the other side of the towering monastic wall.

like all make-believe lives, i pick and i choose the parts i warm up to. i don’t want, not at all, to sleep on a hard slab of oak. nor do i care to be given the cold stare of the no. 1 monk.

no, the abbey i inhabit in my mind’s eye is one that is supremely simple, and utterly warm. the stone floors, i think, are radiantly heated. the garden is bursting with color, and armloads of herbs. the kitchen is steamy all day.

i think really what i am looking for is to make my life in this old creaky house the one i imagine far off in the hills of kentucky, or upstate new york.

it is my task–and maybe yours too–to continue to mine for the heart of the monk here in the midst of my modernday madness.

to find joy in the simplest brushes with heaven above. to fill up my hours with a prayerfulness that never ends. to understand the sanctity of an everyday chore done with pure heart, be it the zen of washing a bowl, or the blessing of changing the sheets for someone whose slumber you pray will be sweet.

it’s a quirky confession, perhaps, but it’s mine. and as this new year unfolds, i enter the most hallowed hours intent on bringing the life of the monk here to a home so utterly earthly.

i wonder, do any of you harbor monastic leanings? any of you spend any time behind the blessed walls of some faraway abbey? any scholars of merton, or friar tuck, or one of the other wise and soulful monks from centuries past?

photo above, courtesy of my sweet will. for the life of me it looks like some ad you might find in the new yorker.

and it is with great joy that i welcome the birth of a beautiful blog that promises to feed our spirits, day in and day out. everyday soup, is the name of dear slj’s blessed repast, now served. please do, give it a taste. you’ll find it, i’m certain, delicious.

by virtue of birth accident, my new year is abundantly a roll-over in every which way. the calendar turns as i too take on another year. my annual summing up, and looking ahead is double-dosed. tomorrow i turn 51. and the gift i just opened is the one of dreaming aloud. bless you, each and every one, for coming here, and letting me do so, day after day.