Photo credit to bubblews.com
by Sister Edith Bogue
Sun Ny and Hannah showed up for their Dignitas Lab with a boatload of questions: pets, cars, how we come to the monastery. Then Hannah asked, "Can you have a vacation? Do Sisters ever go on a cruise?" She looked worried.
You will be happy to know that Sisters take vacations. Some join family members at a lake cabin or on a trip. Others add a few days in a warm location when their work sends them to a conference or join a pilgrimage or tour. We go to visit friends in other monasteries, spend time with family at a distance, or enjoy car trips to new locations. Sisters have taken bus excursions to Branson or Medora, traveled down the Grand Canyon on a burro, or explored the village in Ireland or Bavaria where their family originated. Several have visited our twinning monasteries in Tanzania or in Chile. At the end of my novice year, after I made my first vows, I camped all the way from Duluth through Ontario to Montreal and Ste Anne de Beaupre in Quebec and back. And yes, two Sisters enjoyed an Alaskan cruise a few years ago.
What's different about a sister's vocation? We rarely choose thrilling experiences: I have never heard of a sister bungie jumping or sky-diving on vacation! Instead, we seek out destinations that lift up our spirits with the beauty of God's creation, strengthen the bonds of family and friendship, celebrate human creativity and talent, show us other ways of living the monastic life, or reconnect with our roots. We don't have a rule about this; it's just a natural result of the way we live the rest of our lives.
My friend in a different religious order was scandalized when she heard about our vacations. "You promise to serve and love God forever," she scolded, "not for 50 weeks of the year." She fumbled for words. "Do you get an extra week without God for every decade of service," she went on, "or doesn't it accrue?"
What an attitude! People in parishes are sometimes equally surprised, but not as sarcastic. But my friend captured something important. Our vacations take us away from the stress of our work and fill our days with beauty and companionship -- but we do not leave our rhythm of prayer, our simplicity and monastic ways of doing things behind. We certainly don't have a few weeks "without God." The psalms we sing remind us that God is present everywhere:
Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.c
If I take the wings of dawn*
and dwell beyond the sea,*
Even there your hand guides me,
your right hand holds me fast. (Ps 139)
The mark of a Benedictine is that she is someone who seeks God. All the time. Everywhere, even on vacation. We wouldn't want it any other way.