Monday, March 23, 2009
Periodically we update a list of the different ministries our sisters serve in. For example I am listed as co-director of oblates, volunteer coordinator and vocation team. Other sisters work in leadership, in different offices like development, in health care, in work at jobs away from the monastery, etc. Then there are a number of sisters who are listed as doing “prayer ministry.”
That listing always takes me aback slightly. I mean aren’t we all supposed to be about prayer ministry? Why are some sisters listed as having that as their defining ministry? The reality is that we list the older sisters who are in our infirmary and who no longer have an “active” ministry as the ones who now have prayer as their primary occupation. I always wonder, and worry a little bit that we may think that prayer is what is left when someone can no longer work, that we don’t value their new work of prayer as highly as their previous ministries. Our community works very hard and values hard work so that can color our perceptions.
I suspect the reality is that these sisters are the ones who have graduated to the real work of the monastery, the real work of any of our lives. They are at a place where they have to daily face their limitations, their weakness and frailties. These sisters are at a place where they have to depend on the help of others for daily tasks, bathing, dressing, getting places. They are living in a place of incarnated humility. They can no longer be defined by how hard they worked for many years, how many children they taught, patients they nursed or meals they prepared. Their life is now about essences. It is about the essence of faith: humility in the face of dependence, suffering that is endured in deep hope, prayer that is lifted up on behalf of the world.
In monastic life we live in community seeking to be transformed, seeking to get past our “self-will,” our egocentricity that both helps us to face the challenges of the day but also gives us the illusion that we are the center of the universe. Through the challenges of monastic life, and there are never a lack of challenges, we seek to become transformed, icons of God in a world that needs beauty, salt and leaven in a world that is often insipid and shallow. But most of the time we are taken up with the important, and very necessary chores that need to be done. We need to support ourselves. Daily tasks have to be done. “Active” ministries have to be attended to. God is present but so is the pervasive illusion that we are in charge.
But for the sisters whose primary ministry is prayer, that illusion is being stripped away. Prayer, a deep, naked being before God in supplication, adoration, or simply presence, begins to take over. This is the real work, the deep work of being changed, it is real purpose of monastic life and too often we only come to it in a deep way at the end of our lives. And so I give thanks for these women who are about our most important work.