In the Rule of Benedict there is a recurring metaphor of the journey. Benedict uses images of progress, setting out and movement, to express the idea that we continue to grow and change in this monastic life. For Benedict our journey is toward heaven and eternal life. As monks we are called to keep walking, keep trying, keep praying, keep loving one another even when the road is difficult.
The image of the journey is one that I think about a lot as I walk the hill behind our monastery. We own a couple of hundred acres of hilly woodland and pasture. There is a road that goes up a steep hill to our cemetery. Along the road are a set of outdoor Stations of the Cross. The road continues on and winds around, all the way up to a meadow, down another steep hill and loops back to the beginning.
Walking this road almost every day is like experiencing monastic life in microcosm. There are very steep sections that challenge me and make me realize I’m not in as good a shape as I’d like. In the cemetery I’m surrounded by our cloud of witnesses, the women of faith who have gone before. On up the hill there are some level sections when life is pretty easy and straight-forward. At another place there is a spot where for a few weeks in the spring you can find delicate lady-slipper’s, but only if you know how to slow down and really look. At another spot is “Crystal Lake” a large mud puddle named by someone with a sense of humor to remind me to just laugh when life doesn’t deliver the “crystal lake” I was expecting. Finally, after considerable time and some huffing and puffing comes the top of the meadow. Here is the glimpse of the heights, the mountains, river gorges, plains and panorama that is the image of eternal life that we are all climbing towards.
After this I come down the hill, retrace my steps, through the ordinary, extraordinary place that is our monastery and my life. And tomorrow I will live it all again.