My first semester at St John’s School of Theology ended with a whimper. Although I was officially back at the monastery for winter break, I had a final paper and an exam yet to submit online. It was confusing: my body was home, but my head was still at school. On the fourth Sunday of Advent, with two hours to my deadline, I finally pressed the send button and breathed a sigh of relief. It was done; all of my assignments were in.
Now I can relax, I thought. The semester had been long and challenging in unexpected ways. It wasn’t the schoolwork so much as navigating new relationships, adjusting to an unfamiliar environment (rural Minnesota) and church culture (Roman Catholic), learning to transition from being a novice to a sister (still figuring that out!). The school year had been full of many quick changes. I was looking forward to being in one place with people I know and love. I needed time for quiet reflection, bending back over the experiences of the year, rooting down and integrating what I have learned along the way.
But it took days before I could let go of the semester’s anxieties and let in the experience of being home for the holidays. As I prepared for the Christmas Eve homily, I struggled to say what was in my heart. I miss Sunday Assembly fiercely. Having spent most of the 2015 Advent season away, I returned to Holy Wisdom full of gratitude for this place which is my home, the formation I have received, the life I have found here. My time apart has helped me value and appreciate the gifts of this community more. The last time I stood at the ambo at Holy Wisdom was to make my first monastic profession. Now I was returning to the very same spot to preach a Christmas message. I had come full-circle. How could I possibly communicate how meaningful, how overwhelming at times, this journey has been?
As I look at the Christmas story this year, I find renewed inspiration in the example of Joseph and Mary. To register for the census, they had left their hometown of Nazareth where they might have had the support of family and friends when it came time for Jesus to be born. Instead, they were in Bethlehem, where they knew no one who would take them in. When Mary went into labor, they were caught between places, dislocated, improvising—taking shelter in a cave, making a nursery out of a barnyard feeding trough. Despite the discomfiting circumstances of Jesus’ birth, like all parents, they quickly adjusted to a new reality. They made themselves “at home” in their openness to God’s plan. Maybe I could take a page from their book.
During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the retreat and guest house is closed. The monastery is quieter than usual. The hustle and bustle of guests during the week slows down. We gather for prayers in the oratory regularly and the remainder of our day is free for leisure. I had time for reading, journaling, conversation and quiet reflection. It was just what I needed.
Winter break is nearly over. As I prepare to leave this week for another semester of school, I have mixed feelings. Although I will be sad to go, I know how much my theological education and my experience of living in a different community is stretching my mind and heart. I am gradually learning the deep-down meaning of the Benedictine promise of stability: how to be “at home” wherever God has me. It can often be challenging, but I’m grateful to keep coming home.
Read other blog posts from Sister Rosy in her series, Letters home.