One of the articles written about Holy Wisdom Monastery describes the striking angles of the new green-designed building built in 2009, calling to mind a ship rising upon the prairie. When I returned from the holiday break, it was “all hands on deck” for the sisters, coworkers, sojourners and many volunteers. From January 2-15 of the new year Holy Wisdom Monastery was providing Benedictine hospitality to a five-day Tergar Buddhist Retreat with 85 people attending, a winter writing group of 15 people, 100 people participating in a Center for Mindfulness and Justice meditation retreat, and three-day meetings of the Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network with 30 people attending.
All bedrooms and meeting rooms at the retreat & guest house as well as the two hermitages were being used, and the monastery kitchen was providing meals. All the open space in the monastery, the library and the oratory were available for quiet reflection. The grounds too, though we were in the midst of the “polar vortex” of sub-degree temperatures and record breaking wind chill. Still, retreatants were able to enjoy the beauty of the snowscape in all directions through the magnificent-sized windows throughout the building.
Almost immediately upon entering the monastery on my return, I became aware of the ordinary yet extraordinary work that needs to happen to offer such hospitality: what goes on behind the scenes to help each person feel welcome and for groups to have what they need at hand to do their work well.
Winter has particular challenges: the driveways and parking areas have to be made clear and safe, every day for commuters; inside, the floors have to be repeatedly cleaned from all the snow and salt brought in by people traffic. For the numbers we experienced in these two weeks, there is around the clock work in the kitchen sorting, chopping, peeling, mixing, grilling, cooking, baking, setting tables, scrubbing, washing and drying. In the retreat house, the public spaces and bathrooms need to be kept tidy.
Between groups, the bedrooms require cleaning, and when there are back to back groups like this month, turned around quickly. There is a lot of laundry, ironing and folding. With this many guests, inevitable maintenance issues come up, such as emergency repair of the dishwasher or troubleshooting heating problems.
All of this work happens at Holy Wisdom Monastery with a relatively small team of people. The cheerful and mindful execution of whatever needs to be done is something to observe. The camaraderie, professionalism and selfless, good-natured spirit of coworkers is notable. In obvious stressful situations, I was amazed at how calm, easy-going and considerate people were to each other.
[pictures above: Sojourners Brenda and Rosy (far left & right), and volunteers Doreen and Marcia (middle, left & right) pitching in with meal preparations]
The sisters, abiding in the spirit of Benedict, are sensitive that the monastery be a place where all who come are welcomed as Christ. That was evident in the conscious attention and care I witnessed. I guess there’s a little “monk” in everyone here. And it’s contagious.
Follow this link to read more of Trish’s blog posts: Living in Community – A Benedictine Sojourner’s View