It is an error, some believe, to say that a monastic community is “a family.” I agree. After all, the monastery is comprised of adults who choose to live under a rule and a prioress in perfect freedom. They are not children nor is the prioress their mother. She takes the place of Christ in a household that belongs to God. Her spiritual leadership is ultimate in the life of the monastic woman, but it is a relationship grounded in a specific period of time and made transcendent by the grace of office. We are not a family bound by blood, birth order and common parentage. We are mature women choosing to rely on grace and one another in our common search for God.
That said, I have to say something about family – my family. I just spent one week in Charleston, SC with my Dad, my siblings and their children. Though my week of “family visit” is over, the graces of those days are very present to me. The long drive home from Charleston to Richmond on Monday was like a retreat day – 7 ½ hours to mull over the little faces and the amazing adults who have become my friends. I expect to revisit those days in my heart many times over until the months pass and we are together again. Here’s what I think this morning:
Although monastic community is NOT a family, it can be said that our earliest experiences of being in a family have much to do with the way we approach our new life in monastic community. To the degree that we were loved, we learned to love. That love, for most of us, became our first taste of God’s love. I have decided that everything in my childhood belongs in my salvation story. No parent is perfect. No child grows without making mistakes. We wound and are wounded. We fail, our parents fail and somehow, we come out the other side the person we are in the world. Father Richard Rohr, OFM, would say, “Everything belongs.” (It’s one of my favorite books!)
I am overwhelmed, still, by the love I was given by my parents. It is a love that courses through veil of eternity and through my Father’s flesh and bone. It was enough to show me the face of a loving God. I am in awe of my brother and sisters. From the rivalry and misunderstandings of childhood, we have arrived at mutual respect – a love that acknowledges common hurts and remembered joys. We share the precious memory of a time lost to us in adulthood. We remember…and that is truly a gift. We knew each other from our Mother’s womb and became unique individuals within safety of belonging to something much bigger – a family. My brother and sisters are parents now of children between the ages of 3 and 9. My seven nieces and nephews are loved. They all know that God exists and holds them in tender care. Watching them I see their parents and our parents all mixed together. I see a miraculous web of faithful love that continues one generation to the next. I see the face of God in the gift of the family. My family was my first “community.” In our struggles and in our blessings I am who I am. By God’s grace and wisdom of the Holy Rule, I am still becoming who God wants me to be. For this, and for so much more, I am truly grateful.
Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki