“Ceremony focuses attention so that attention becomes intention. If you stand together and profess a thing before your community, it holds you accountable.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 249.
On July 15, 2018, we celebrated the first profession of Denise West as a sister at Holy Wisdom Monastery during the Eucharist on Sunday morning. Denise has been with us about three years, and this is the next step in making a commitment to community life with the sisters at Holy Wisdom.
Benedictines are good at ceremony; we call it liturgy or ritual. In the profession ritual, Denise stood before the worshiping community and read her promises aloud to us as every Benedictine before her has done. It was a powerful moment when the whole assembly responded to Denise’s singing of the Suscipe from Psalm 119: “Sustain me, O God, as you have promised that I may live. Disappoint me not in my hope.” We are one body, relying on God’s Spirit to sustain us. This ritual action holds us sisters publicly accountable for what we say we intend to do with our lives which is to seek God with our sisters.
Later in the liturgy as we prayed the Eucharistic prayer together, the Sunday assembly community stood to profess who God is for us and who we are before God. We prayed: “Help us to recognize the reality of Christ present among us. Grant us the courage and the power to be your justice and your peace in our world. Give us open hearts and minds to welcome all who are outcast, especially the immigrant and the refugee. Teach us to live gently and gratefully upon this planet…” Our attention in the liturgy becomes our intention in life.
Benedict built small rituals into the day that help us stay focused on our intention to seek God. When we enter the oratory where we pray, we bow as an acknowledgment that the holy is present. Benedict writes that the one who greets guests at the door is to call out: “Your blessing please,” acknowledging that the Holy One is present in each person. We don’t use those exact words today, but our attention to greeting guests with respect and kindness expresses our intention to acknowledge the blessing that they bring. At the recent memorial service for Roger Hauck, a former board member, Sister Joanne Kollasch noted the way Roger had blessed the community with his knowledge, humility and enthusiasm. A retreatant said it this way: we are changed/blessed by the people who find us.
In another small ritual, Benedict asks that those beginning their kitchen service for the week say three times: “Oh God, come to our assistance.” And the community responds: “Oh God, make haste to help us.” These are the same words that the community says at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Hours. At the monastery, the prayer leader for the day at the Liturgy of the Hours also leads the meal prayer. This practice ties the common meal and our communal prayer together and reminds us that we depend upon the grace of God in all aspects of our life.
What rituals do you take part in and how do they express your intention?