Finding hope in Benedictine life

Lynne Smith, OSB Uncategorized Leave a Comment

We are reading an article in chapter* by Sister Ephrem Hollermann, OSB from St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, MN entitled “Reflections on the Conversation” (American Benedictine Review 66:4 – December 2015, 391-400). In it she cites an article written by Matthias Newman, OSB, a monk of Saint Meinrad Abbey in Indiana entitled “Dimensions of Hope in the Benedictine Vision (Benedictines 32:2 (Fall-Winter 1977) 67-74; 110-113).”

Sister Ephrem found Father Matthais’s article extremely helpful back in 1977 after experiencing 10 years of loss and change early in her Benedictine life following Vatican Council II and multiple deaths in her community. Today, with the loss and change we are experiencing due to COVID-19, and, because we celebrate the Solemnity of Benedict and Scholastica this month, I find it helpful to turn to the Benedictine tradition for hope.

Father Matthias writes that there is one primary hope in the Benedictine life: “A desire for the continual movement of one’s life toward the Mystery of Christ.” Perhaps you recognize this desire in yourself. This is a large part of what brought me to Holy Wisdom Monastery though I couldn’t have stated it so clearly then. I realized in my forties that in order for me to grow spiritually, I needed accountability to and support of others. As a Presbyterian minister, I had some of that accountability and support in my colleagues, but I was looking for something more. I found in Benedictine life a reliable, experiential, everyday communal path toward the Mystery of Christ. Father Matthias articulates how that is true.

He lists six “supporting expectations” embedded in the Rule that support and guide the monastic in her hope. A Benedictine monastic can hope for and expect to:

  1. have a spiritual leader
  2. possess a common spiritual teaching
  3. have an active community life
  4. have an ordered and reverent cycle of community prayer
  5. receive the basic necessities of life
  6. have the opportunity to provide a contributing labor for the community

These hope and expectations, except for the fifth one, also apply to members of our community of communities living the Benedictine life outside the monastery.

We can expect to have a spiritual leader. I give thanks for Mary David and Joanne who have led this community of communities for decades. They embraced and guided the community through the changes of Vatican Council II. They listened to the Spirit calling this community to various works and ministry to the Madison area. They navigated through the rough waters of becoming an ecumenical community of sisters and a community of communities. Their deep roots in the land and in Benedictine spirituality helped grow plans for the environmental work on the property. Much more could be said. I see in the depth of their vision and experience and their modeling collaborative leadership much reason to have hope for our future. We have a strong foundation. Though we are a small community, we have touched many people’s lives both here and around the world.

We possess a common spiritual teaching. The Rule, the Gospel and our relationship with Christ are at the center of our life together. These serve as daily guides in the changing present and the uncertainty of the future. We share Benedictine spirituality either by word or deed with those who are involved in the monastery because it is such a humane and human way of following the Gospel together.

We have an active community life and have the opportunity to provide a contributing labor for that community life. One of the most important things the sisters do is build community with and among people who want to be a part of the community of communities. The oblates, Sunday Assembly, and Friends of Wisdom Prairie each have their own leadership teams, as well as practices that build community among their members. Benedict says we go to God together. We need each other on the spiritual journey. In the spiritual life and for community to work, we each have a need to give as well as receive. Volunteering on the prairie, serving as a liturgical minister at Sunday Assembly, taking a leadership role in the oblates, serving as a porter or greeter, calling others builds up the community through mutual service. We have hundreds of volunteers involved in the monastery. This is great reason for hope.

We have an ordered and reverent cycle of community prayer. Common prayer is one of the pillars of Benedictine life (along with common work, common dialogue and common meals). It gives rhythm to the day and calls us back to what gives our life meaning: to seek God. Prayer and worship at Holy Wisdom Monastery are open to everyone who wishes to attend. During the pandemic in-person participation is limited which is why the podcast of midday prayer and the live stream of the Sunday liturgy are so important. The sisters have always committed significant resources to provide a rich liturgical life at the monastery. It is that liturgical life that draws many of you to the monastery and builds our hope together.

Reflecting on all this, I find much to give me hope even in these days of pandemic. I and we are blessed by the Benedictine life here, by the many people who share the mission, vision, and values and participate at the monastery. May you also find hope in your participation in this Benedictine life.

*Chapter is the sisters’ daily meeting for reflection on a spiritual reading and for coordinating the work of the day.

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