Monday, June 14, 2010

New Ventures

Benedictines have survived for over 1500 years both because our way of life speaks to the deep desires of the human heart to get to know God more deeply and because we continue to change and adapt to the needs of the times. The ways in which we seek God and share our life with others continues to respond to the needs of the times.
On example of that adaptability is the amazing new project starting here at the monastery. We just opened our new bed and breakfast to the public. We have taken the ground floor of our guest house, totally remodeled it and opened the Inn at St. Gertrude Bed and Breakfast. So far as we can tell we are only the second monastery in the country to operate a bed and breakfast. (The other one is in Chicago, so I don’t think we are competing with each other).

Opening the bed and breakfast has been a long process that highlights both our response to changing times and our continuing values. About six years ago we decided that as a community we need to focus on income development as one of several goals for our future. With fewer members we knew we needed to be creative in generating revenue to support ourselves.

Benedictines do not do things without extensive collaboration. Decisions are not made unilaterally or without consultation. Community is our core value, our future is in the hands of all of us. With this in mind we formed a committee to explore new ideas. One early idea was to take an under-utilized building and turn it into a bed and breakfast. Two of our very creative oblate members proposed what this building could look like if it was re-done. The proposal was discussed by the whole community. Every member was invited to talk about the idea and to give feedback to the committee.

After feedback and more exploration the committee concluded that the building we were considering wouldn’t lend itself to a bed and breakfast. So after more committee meetings (do you sense a pattern here?) someone came up with the idea of using the ground floor of our guest house. Much discussion ensued, the community as a whole was consulted, the advice, help, time and energy of many people went into almost two years of very practical work on this project.

The result is a beautiful set of rooms that are now open to the public and are already proving very popular.

But perhaps the most important piece of this whole project is how we have done it. Opening the bed and breakfast has been an amazing model of generosity and collaboration. There were many frustrating moments when we tried to create a business with a committee, probably not a model that is taught in most MBA programs! But through everyone’s patience we managed to create a new business that combined the efforts and creativity of our monastic community, our employee, our volunteers, our oblate community and many others.

I think this is Benedictine values at their best. Together we are able to create something new that honors both the concerns and the gifts of everyone. None of us got exactly what we wanted, no one was able to impose their will on everyone else. All of us who worked on the project had to practice patience, flexibility, forgiveness and tolerance. This has been a truly collaborative project.

And thanks to the gifts of so many people we are able to share the gift of our hospitality to new people. We will give them a small taste of the gift of the gift that Benedictine community is able to offer to our fragmented world.

Want to experience it yourself? Check out

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Stability: When the going gets tough...

As Americans we are always on the move. We go away to school. We frequently change jobs. We change churches and political parties. Staying in one place, literally or figuratively, does not seem to be part of our makeup. Whether it is because we desire change, we get bored, want new challenges, get frustrated, for whatever reason we tend to be always moving on.

In some ways this is fine but the problem is that when we don’t like how things are going we immediately think of moving or changing. Frustrated with how things are going on the job? Change jobs! The relationship with our spouse or our friends isn’t what it once was? Get divorced or find new friends! Our church or political party has changed and we don’t agree with what they are saying? Leave the church or the party!

In this culture of constant change Benedictines point to another way. One of the promises that we make at profession is “stability.” This means that we commit to be part of this particular community, this monastery, for the rest of our lives. We will change, the community will change, the world will change but we say that we won’t leave.

Making this promise is probably a lot like marriage vows. At the time you make them it doesn’t seem like it could be that hard. But of course the insidious challenge comes years down the line. We don’t live in the same community we enter. We change, everyone else changes, the world changes around us. Our enthusiasm may fade, our understanding of this way of life might change radically. We begin to see the limitations, the brokenness, the pettiness of a group of people trying to live together and frequently failing to be their best selves.

But the real issue is what do we do with these struggles, this disillusionment? To be a Benedictine means to stay and work it through. This is stability. Stability means doing the hard inner work of refusing to leave when things are not what I expected or hoped for. Stability is a source of deep humility when I recognize that my desire for something different, my anger or frustration stems from my own limitations as much or more than anyone else’s. Stability also forces me to realize that I cannot be self-sufficient, I need the support of others. The journey is about us. We are in this journey together and cannot venture off on our own.

We live in a society that encourages us to think that we don’t really need to do the hard work of transformation. We often feel that instant gratification takes too long. But Benedict knew that the spiritual journey is one that happens when we go ever deeper in the same place. By making the public promise to stay with our commitments, to stay within what may feel like the confines of our lives and limitations, only then will we really face our problems which are usually staring back at us in the mirror. In stability we don’t take the easy way out, we stay and face our need for grace. Through stability we come to embrace our limitations which are the source of our need for God.