People often come to the monastery looking for community. Community is a slippery word that is used with a wide range of meanings and lots of unspoken expectations. We talk about community around the monastery because community is central to Benedictine life. But the question remains: what is community? We probably each have different understandings and expectations of what it means.
I recently came across one definition that seems simple and helpful. It doesn’t say everything, yet it is a place to start. Charles Vogl, in his article, “Behind every strong leader is a strong community,” defines community as: “a group of people who share mutual concern for one another’s welfare. A group may call itself a community but if members are really only looking out for themselves, they’re just a group….A real community is comprised of relationships that are effective and resilient. These relationships can then in turn lead to profound change, however you define it.”
Benedict’s Rule is all about how to live well together in community. Chapter 72 on the good zeal of monastics paints a picture of effective and resilient relationships. He recommends showing respect, patiently supporting one another’s weaknesses, mutual obedience, pursuing what one judges better for the other, and love. Elsewhere, Benedict emphasizes listening, prayer, humility, forgiveness, trusting in God’s mercy, perseverance. Benedict is a realist. He knows building community is hard and demanding work that hollows each of us out to make more room for the love of God to work within and among us. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but its fruits are life-giving change–something Benedict called conversatio or conversion of life.
A large part of the work we sisters do at the monastery is building community–among ourselves, within and among the communities at the monastery such as the coworkers, oblates, Sunday Assembly, Friends of Wisdom Prairie. Sharing prayer, meals and conversation, working together, rubbing up against each other and staying connected through conflict to resolution, coming to deeper self-knowledge and respect for each other are building blocks of community.
At our February, 2017 oblate retreat, the oblates and sisters experienced a sense of community especially during our Sunday morning conversation time. Throughout the weekend Sisters Rosy, Joanne and I shared our personal reflections on what it means to seek God in the Benedictine way. On Sunday the oblates spoke about their own experiences. The comments built upon each other and took us deeper, bringing to light another angle, another consideration. Together we built up a sense of mutual understanding, care and connection. The retreat ended with a time of prayer for the needs and concerns the oblates and sisters expressed. We left feeling more whole and connected to ourselves, God and one another. That’s what community can do for us when it is lived well. It is community that sustains us into the future.
Our oblate community is open to women and men of all ages. More information is available on our website: Oblates of Holy Wisdom.
If you are a single Christian woman, 21-50, interesting in experiencing a taste of community, and of the following retreats led by the sisters here at Holy Wisdom can provide the time and opportunity to enter into community with others in a safe space. Follow links to more information on our website:
Holy Week Retreat – April 13-16, 2017
A Day Away retreat (next retreat: May 6, 2017)
Exploring Benedictine Community (next retreat: June 2-4, 2017)
Consider giving yourself the gift of a community experience at Holy Wisdom!