Day 6 of Week 9
Today is the sixth day of the ninth week of my Benedictine Sojourner experience. I’ve been living in the community for two full months now, which isn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things, but somehow it feels like a great deal has happened to me in that time. Many things have changed and I can’t help feeling that once my sojourn is over, no matter what the future holds, I will not be quite the same person I was before I came here. This is a good thing.
In my moments of reflection on this experience thus far, I find myself in awe of the ways that Holy Wisdom and the Holy Spirit have been doing their work on my heart, mind and soul. I think back to that day it all started. It was last March, right after the 65th Anniversary celebration. I was so inspired by hearing the sisters’ stories that I managed to work up the courage to ask Sister Lynne Smith if the community would consider having a Sojourner who was also a monastery employee. A couple months later, when Sisters Joanne Kollasch and Lynne and I were in discernment about my call to monastic community, there was a single moment when I knew that my life was about to change forever. It was the moment when, as I was driving home to the east side of Madison, I saw my couch perched on the curb outside my building.
It looked surprisingly dignified in spite of the circumstances. It’s faux suede still a plush and deep shade of smoky green as it sat on that curb next to the bus stop in front of the Whispering Woods complex. A last remnant from a lifestyle that no longer fit. A part of myself that I have been either trying to live up to, or let go of, for a very long time.
Less than a year before this, as my adult son and I were moving in to my newly purchased townhouse—on the hottest day of the year—I had wanted to burn that couch in the parking lot rather than having to move it. But, eventually we managed to wrestle it into the living room. In the homes that I grew up in, the living room was always an exclusive space reserved for adults and their guests. The rest of the time it was a kind of shrine to a way of life that was meant to impress more than to invite. It never seemed quite right to me, but for a long time it was all I knew. I think that’s why I have always had a love-hate relationship with furniture, decorating and the art of homemaking—and yet, that never stopped me from buying lots of fancy stuff and trying to make it all work. I was quite proud of that couch when I first bought it in 2009. It represented a kind of coming-of-age for me, even though it was rarely used.
But on the day that that very same couch was abandoned on the roadside, I knew that parts of me were being prompted to grow in new and essential ways, and if I said yes to that growth, there would be no going back. Even though it had only been eight months since I had purchased the townhome, I was getting a strong intuitive signal that it was time to move on. But it wasn’t an easy choice to make. I had been trained from birth to believe that homeownership was one of life’s major accomplishments—ultimate proof that I mattered. But there was my couch, outside on the curb alone and facing the unknown, because I was saying yes to a very different kind of life. I was going to risk finding out if I would matter anyway.
My son, his partner, her two children and their two cats were going to stay in the townhouse without me, and they had their own ideas for the living room. They were actually going to live in it; and earlier that day, my son had called me at work and said, “Abbie and I have tried everything we can think of, but there’s no place for the big green couch. What should we do?” I asked, “What do you want to do?” He asked, “Can we get rid of it?” I paused at this. I took a deep breath. “Okay.” I said.
It was scary, but at the same time strangely liberating. I was preparing to become a Benedictine Sojourner, to live in monastic community where so many of the values of my upbringing, and values of my culture in general, would need to be examined. Some of them would be challenged, and some would need to be discarded altogether. And my big green couch was only the beginning.