Fostering Community: What might IT be?
I am dazzled by the gold thread of a meaningful conversation and, as if with the paw of a cat, I pull on it and chase it, until it unravels. That is how I might describe my fall week of residency at the Benedictine Center as I moved in and out of conversations.
“IT is so wonderful to be here at the Benedictine Center.”
“IT goes so quickly.”
“I find IT good for the soul to be in a great conversation.”
“IT leaves a new taste in my mouth.”
I am not usually inspired by fixating on minutia, and yet for a week I set my heart on listening to people describe endearing sentiments about IT. I hear such things often when I am with people of the white garment—energized people, baptized into the Christian community and living their lay vocation in the world, the church, their families and, sometimes, at the Benedictine Center. They have come to the Benedictine Center as Oblates, associates, retreatants, donors, spiritual directors, parish staffs, worshipping people and friends. And, like the Sisters, they love IT.
A Threshold of St. Paul's Monastery
Crossing the threshold of St. Paul’s Monastery is not simply a physical moment where one opens the door and crosses over; it is, rather, a liminal space . . . a place where the garment of baptism loosens, and life is stretched, and the autopilot light is snuffed out as the light of Christ penetrates the crevices of the soul. Perhaps the first easing of tense shoulders is the realization that someone else will prepare your meals, put together the conference room for a great retreat, facilitate a meaningful conversation, exhibit the art, shelve the books in the library and set your prayer books for you. After all, you are accustomed to serving others. This time, however, you need only rest and join your heart with the heart of God.
As guests cross back over the threshold to go home, they realize they have been enlivened by hinge experiences, pivotal ‘aha’ moments that help us test our assumptions, re-examine life experiences, clarify our values, and re-connect with the Holy Spirit. They return home with souls nurtured by the simple yet prophetic gift of hospitality and the witness of Benedictine life. They declare IT was fabulous. Perhaps this romantic version of IT should also include a dash of real challenge. Throughout my conversations, those with whom I shared a listening space spoke eloquently of the Sisters who have invited them into this liminal space, held them in prayer, and modeled service to the Church in unique ways. Certainly, such stories warm your heart and put smiles on our faces.
The Durability of It
Perhaps this romantic version of IT should be given a dose of truth telling. Time and time again, those with whom I shared a listening space spoke eloquently of the sisters who invite them into this liminal space, hold them in prayer, and have offered their lives in service to the Church in a unique way. For sure, it puts warmth in your heart and a smile on your face. Yet, this community of sisters is increasing in age. They are a part of the big IT that nourishes so many. Their presence gives hope and a heart for listening. It may seem unclear how the monastic presence people have come to love and the hope these Sisters offer the world will endure.
My sense is that IT is far more durable than we imagine. Whatever makes people want to drink from the well of this life is larger than any single personality. The Spirit is forming people so that they, too, might shape families, churches, and communities upon their return home.
The IT—the heart of this Benedictine community’s life and legacy—is already marked with the sign of the cross and hope in the resurrection. Amid loss and change are the seeds of new life, planted and thriving through those who have crossed the threshold. The marvelous invitation offered to us by the Sisters is to share IT. Go, cultivate meaningful communities that bear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Amplify the Benedictine charisms as a way for Christians to live IT out.
Learn more about core Benedictine values.