My daily routine is determined mostly by the posted weekly schedule. While there are always inevitable changes, this routine has become mine over my time here at the Monastery of St. Gertrude. The important distinction for me is not to just go along with the established schedule, but to be open to the greater call.
Each day begins with breakfast in silence. As a morning person, this is such a wonderful start to the day. While I may be awake and ready for the day, it is a joy to eat quietly knowing that I will not be socially obligated to chitchat. It should also be noted that “The Great Silence” is respected from 9pm to 9am each day. This means that talking and noise is kept to a minimum, at least until after Morning Praise. This slow yet methodical start helps ease me into the day, setting the pace for the rest of the day as productive and deliberate, without a frenetic energy.
8:30 – Morning Praise
Each prayer begins with a series of chimes and bells, gently calling all to prayer. The essential feature of this call to prayer is that it comes ten minutes before prayer begins. This allows ample time for everyone to arrive calmly, ready to pray rather than skidding in at the last minute, frenzied and distracted. There is one other benefit to arriving sooner rather than later, for if one is sitting quietly before prayer begins, one might notice the special quiet that emerges as people have settled. The feeling of a unified calm yet expectant anticipation becomes apparent from within the quiet, awaiting the transformation of our individual prayers becoming communal. No longer does the individual exists within or even as the self, but there is a merging and melding together, creating a greater whole. I can only describe this experience as truly becoming “one body,” for our prayers are for the whole world, honoring and giving voice to all.
|A literal call to prayer, using the speakerphone|
Work comes to a halt when the bells ring again to call everyone to prayer. As my supervisor has said in one of her explanations of the daily schedule, “Prayer doesn’t interrupt work. Work interrupts prayer.” I try to remember this phrase as I grumble to myself about never seeming to have enough time to finish any of my tasks when I would like. Then I remember that there is a time and a place for everything, and right now, it is time to pray. Everything else can wait; it will be there when I return.
What I find remarkable in this celebration of Eucharist is the ways in which the community interacts. I see a surprising tenderness from the Eucharistic Ministers, heartfelt signs of peace, and a dedication to each member by ensuring that everyone will be able to come and go from Mass. This dedication entails that several sisters help guide the sisters of the Sunshine Wing (also known as the infirmary) back to their rooms. This is how I see the Gospel lived out – through these small gestures that reveal Christ in each of us.
|My make shift office in the corner of the volunteer lounge|
After every meal, there is always a plethora of dishes to be washed and put away. Instead of this seeming like a chore, I enjoy this time to catch up with everyone, joking and laughing while still getting the job done. To me, this is community at one of the best moments. Soon enough, it’s time to head back to work.
5:00 – Evening Prayer, Supper
Again the bell calls us to prayer. I thought I would escape such an authority once I graduated high school, and yet here again do I find myself spurred into movement by another bell. This time, however, there are not the same consequences. I do not have to go to prayer. No one will say anything. I could finish another chapter of the book I am reading, or watch tv, or get a head start on supper, if I really wanted. Yet day after day, I come to prayer. Why? Besides the reasons I have previously mentioned, there is something to be said for the tradition. Benedictines have been praying for 1,500 years. Judy continues to remind me of this, and she says, “If I choose not to go to prayer, if we all chose not to go, who will?” There is tremendous intentionality in our prayer, but it is quite easy to lose sight of why we are there.
Each aspect of my day is a reminder for me to see beyond the event or the chore itself, and instead see the central themes of my life. Do I value productivity over time? Community over solitude? Self-awareness over pettiness? In these ways, I am learning lessons for a life of deep richness and greater wholeness.
Monastery of St. Gertrude Immersion Program is to introduce volunteers to the contemplative, monastic life as lived in a Benedictine women's monastery. Volunteers live, pray and work with the sisters and learn about monastic life and work in a monastery department.