Over the years when people have worked with the sisters on marketing and getting the word out about the monastery, they often ask, “What is your product?” They are trying to help us articulate clearly the benefit the monastery provides to the public. It is a good marketing question, but it has never felt as if it quite fits what the monastery does.
At the recent oblate retreat when the oblate candidates were sharing their personal rules and their experiences during the candidate year, it came to me that the “product” the monastery provides is transformed people. Actually that is not quite accurate. God’s Spirit working within people brings about the transformation. What the monastery provides is a welcoming, quiet, simple environment, a time-tested understanding of and attention to the process of spiritual transformation and a human community that holds the intention of listening and responding to the Spirit.
Other institutions or groups also provide for transformation in people. I think of academic institutions, families and Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance. Schools and universities help people grow intellectually. Faith-based schools also attend to the heart and the spirit of their students. Families provide for emotional and physical growth. They do this best when they have adequate emotional and material resources. Faith communities of all types also aim at bringing about transformation in people. AA has proven success in working transformation in people with addictions.
The genius of Benedict is that he has the whole person in view when he lays out his rule (The Rule of Benedict)—a time-tested guide to coming to full human life. His is a way of life that encompasses body, soul and spirit. He attends to the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of his community. His insight is that human community lived well is the primary vehicle for this wholistic human transformation.
As I listened to the candidates share their rules (their personal guide for their life) I heard how the challenges of the year helped them to know themselves better. Participating in study and prayer together helped clarify the desires of their hearts. The guidance and support of their oblate class, their oblate mentors and the sisters encouraged them to respond to God speaking in their lives. Their commitment to their own growth and their faithfulness to the process and the relationships with their class members contributed to their on-going transformation. This on-going transformation is the essence of the Benedictine promise of conversatio or fidelity to the monastic way of life.
This “product” is hard to measure in objective terms. Yet, it is clear to me that these transformed people are what the monastery offers to the world. To provide for this transformation, the monastery offers a particular type of setting, one that is quiet, simple, spacious, beautiful and natural. This environment draws people to their center and helps them hear and respond to the deep desires of their hearts. We offer respect and hospitality that invites people to trust who they are and to trust the Holy One who holds them. The sisters create and nurture various types of communities at the monastery because we humans need each other for support and challenge on this journey. If you are looking for transformation, I hope you will consider being involved in one of the communities at Holy Wisdom.