Preferring Christ

Rachel Olson Living in Community, Sojourner diary Leave a Comment

Today begins my 23rd week as a Benedictine Sojourner. Where did the time go? In the beginning, six months seemed like forever, but the time has passed much too quickly and I feel like there is so much to say about my time here.

I’ve been having some amazing and transformative experiences which is incredibly exciting, but at the same time, it has also proven to be a significant challenge to pin them down and turn them into brief, winsome blog posts on a regular and timely basis. I’ve discovered that it can be difficult to grasp and articulate the deeper meanings of these kinds of things while they are still in progress. If you’ve been reading along since last October, then you have some idea of the relative success and/or failure of my attempts thus far.

But now, as the end draws near, I’ve been feeling some internal pressure to write something a little more definitive about being a sojourner. And yet, for the last couple of weeks, try as I might, I had been coming up empty. As the deadline for submitting my post approached, I started to worry about my complete lack of a working narrative.

But then I got some fortuitous assistance.

Two days before I needed to have my post completed, I arrived a little early for my semi-monthly check-in meeting with Sister Lynne Smith and found myself alone in the Sisters’ Reading Room. Feeling restless, I proceeded to root around the bookshelves. Almost immediately, my attention landed on one of the many serious-looking professional journals on display, this one titled Transmission of the Faith and the Foundations of Monastic Life. This is not something I would normally gravitate to, and yet I picked it up, thumbed through it and began skimming a random article called “The Essential Elements of Monastic Life.” As I read the following words (abridged for space and emphasis) I felt that eerie, tingling, elation that arrives in the wake of the serendipitous movement of the Holy Spirit:

“To live the monastic life is to prefer nothing whatever to Christ. (Rule of Benedict 71.1) …To prefer nothing whatever to Christ requires a kind of self-exploration, perhaps even soul searching. It means asking questions like… Where do I meet Christ in monastic life?”

The clarity I had been waiting for came to me in that moment. “Preferring Christ” has been at the very heart of my sojourner experience. What brought me here was a desire to discover what it looks like and feels like to put my relationship with Christ first before anything and everything else. And, in answer to that, Christ has met me here in a variety of ways.

The first meeting of Christ for me has been in prayer. This started even before my becoming a sojourner. I had been coming to Centering Prayer nearly every morning before work for many weeks. Now, looking back, I see that the practice of routinely seeking Christ in this way created and nurtured a desire for more. Time spent with Christ in this way has been, and continues to be a catalyst for good things that are happening in my heart and soul. It is essential to this journey and something I intend to practice and hold as one of my highest priorities for the rest of my life.

Liturgy of the Hours has also been a place to meet Christ. Like Centering Prayer, it is a daily discipline that brings me together with others. Together we pray for all of creation, sing sacred songs, meditate on Scripture and listen for the voice of the Spirit. Being asked to not only attend but also lead the liturgy has challenged me to step out of my comfort zone—letting go of some past trauma and even going so far as taking up music as a hobby. I’ve started playing piano, a little bit every day, and Christ has met me there too. In conquering my fear, I am finding new joy in something that had been lost to me since childhood.

Another place and time that Christ is present for me is at meals. Dining at the monastery has been a delight. Even doing the dishes can be a sacred task, full of camaraderie and purpose. Not only is the food terrific, but each meal brings me to the table with the members of the community, who after being busy with work, have a chance to reconnect over lunch and dinner. And then there are also the retreatants and other guests who join us. I find it immensely enjoyable to meet, talk and break bread with all kinds of people from all over the world. I’ve had many holy conversations and “road to Emmaus” moments at mealtimes and I am incredibly grateful for this.

Perhaps the most sacred of times are those spent quietly within the monastic community. Built in to the routines of each week and month are occasions and opportunities for sisters and sojourners to pray, talk, clean, cook, and dine together privately. Sometimes there is levity and laughter, occasionally there have been tears of deep reflection and compassionate connection. Always there is a sense of stability, assurance and affection. A family, not of blood, but of shared faith and commitment to help each other to “prefer” Christ in a world where there are a great many other things competing to be preferred.

So, there you have it. In my desire to practice a preference for Christ through monastic living, I have found Christ is here and active among the Benedictine Women of Madison. I have shared some of the ways this has been revealed to me, but of course there are others. Such as the Sister’s Reading Room, where a somewhat overwrought sojourner on a deadline for a blog post discovered just what she needed, just when she needed it most.

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