Looking Back: ‘Ecumenical Monastic Life Offers Journey into a New Culture’ (2003) by Erica Thiessen

Brooke Moriarty Benedictine Bridge, Community of Benedict, Interfaith Relations, Living in Community, Looking Back, Monastic Life, Rule of Benedict 1 Comment

In 2003, Erica Thiessen was a novice of Benedictine Women of Madison. In Issue 12 of Benedictine Bridge from Ordinary Time 2003, she wrote this article reflecting on the value of Benedictine life in relation to her own experiences as a Mennonite.

I have been journeying into different lands from almost before I was born. My parents were both Russian Mennonite immigrants to Canada. As a family, we traveled to Ghana and Trinidad where my father taught school. In ways, I became a pilgrim, and for much of my adult life, I have lived and worked around the world. Always on the move. Always sensing the call into the “more of life.” I have now found my way into the stability and rootedness of monastic life.

I am not surprised. Perhaps it was inevitable that I should find myself in a place where I am always invited by Saint Benedict and Benedictine Women of Madison to ever begin again to live the ordinary life as the extraordinary gift that it is. What does surprise me is that I can bring with me my heritage–the times when I have plodded, hiked, skipped, swam, flown, delighted in and been frustrated by the journey.

True ecumenism embraces diverse faith traditions

I come with my relationship with God that has been nurtured by my Mennonite tradition and through the stretching experiences where I encountered people of different denominations, faiths and cultures.

Even though I come with all that has brought me this far, I am again invited to begin anew. I am invited to again discover what it is that really matters and to set aside those things that perhaps don’t matter as much as I thought they did. But don’t get me wrong, I am very much a beginner.

The other day, I was reading the reflections of a Mennonite volunteer in a Third World assignment as she grew familiar with a new culture. I had been thinking about my own experience in the monastery. It was feeling somewhat burdensome. What had been fun and exciting at the beginning was losing some of its appeal.

I feel embarrassed by my inability to figure everything out. Sometimes I even felt like an irritable and angry child. There is so much to learn and yet there is a part of me that says I’m tired of being a beginner again. This young volunteer’s reflections became a balm of comfort as I recalled the many times I had passed through similar periods of adjustment and learning.

Saint Benedict understood our impatience

I remembered the words I put on my screensaver during the first weeks I was a candidate. They are from the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict: “…don’t be daunted immediately by fear (and frustration)… It’s bound to be narrow at the outset… But as we progress in this way of life and in faith… our hearts will overflow with delight.”

Just hang in with the ordinary. I can live with that. I’ve been there before. And remember–it’s a new beginning.

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