St. Scholastica Monastery
By Sister Edith Bogue, O.S.B.
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"Whenever I walk through your monastery," my friend said, "it makes me feel happy and peaceful." She pondered. "Its simple beauty - not flashy or fashionable -touches me. Why is that?"
I rejoice when anyone remarks on the beauty that we Sisters nurture in our home: when people gaze into the Garden Court in bloom through the summer, watch the sunrise in the Cloister Walk, or enjoy the public spaces in the monastery. We think hard and work to create little surprises of beauty as gifts for our visitors.
Several sisters choose and change pictures in our halls and rooms. Sister Martha tends the vines that bring life to the Cloister Walk even in winter. Sister Mary Charles of blessed memory created unique signs for foyer. Many sisters care for monastery flower beds; the Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine near the stairs up from the Little Theater was rejuvenated by one of our newest sisters.
"That's nice," she said, "but what makes beauty important? St Benedict just tells you to take good care of stuff, not to make it beautiful." She grinned, teasing me about stewardship. "Wouldn't it be holier to sell everything and give to the poor?"
"What about that happy and peaceful feeling when you walk through the monastery?" I asked, "That's exactly what St Benedict wants us to provide: hospitality for both body AND spirit." I looked around our dining room. "Not many would visit if we sat on hard benches and served thin gruel!" We laughed.
But beauty is deeper and more important. Our Benedictine tradition and our theology speak of God as the source of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty - and we grow closer to God as we learn, love and live in them. In the 21st century, we think of "knowing God" mostly by seeking Truth through study, then living that truth as Goodness. For Benedictines, Beauty is needed for our mission to Seek God.
Can you remember a time when beauty was overwhelming: you were entranced and just wanted to stay in that setting? It might occur in nature, or through beautiful music or art, or in settings made by human hands. I have had deep moments of experiencing this grace in a forest in Alaska, at Galla Placidia in Ravenna, at the time of making my monastic profession. Your memories will differ - but share the sense of knowing the divine in a way beyond words.
Benedictines build monasteries in beautiful locations. Mother Scholastica surely imagined those sunrises when she chose to build her monastery on this high hill. Today, we maintain places for people to experience beauty and let it lead them to contemplation: in the Chapel, at the Sacred Heart Shrine, along the Cloister Walks, with Sister Joyce's nature photography or the monastery art work. We keep them simple, uncluttered, and quiet so that beauty can speak for herself. When beauty speaks, we feel the joy.
I encourage you - yes, YOU! - to notice and enjoy the beauty this week. May it refresh and replenish your spirit.