By Sister Edith Bogue firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlie brought bold questions to his "Ask a Sister" Dignitas Lab. "What's the hardest thing about being a sister?" he began. Lots of things are hard - work, time management, conflicts with people. But anyone at CSS would name those things. I pondered.
"Being a Sister 24/7," I finally replied, "year in and year out." He seemed puzzled; I offered an example. "When I was still new in the monastery, someone cut me off on I-35. I leaned hard on horn along with the brakes. Then I saw the driver, a frequent monastery guest. She was shocked: this harpy of the highway was a Benedictine sister?" He sympathized. "I was filled with regret, embarrassment, compunction. I felt terrible."
Bad behavior - sin - is the human condition. We squirm on remembering harsh words said to family, loved ones, or friends. Our spirits droop over people we disappointed. We all fall short of our ideals, even of treasured vows or promises. Why name it as the hardest part of being a sister?
Because of the special vow we make as Benedictines: conversatio morum, which we understand as on-going conversion of heart through the faithful practice of The Rule. At the moment we make that promise to God, the prioress and the wider community, when we sign it on the altar, we know we won't fulfill it in this world. We take it up fresh each day, hoping to do a little better than yesterday.
This demanding promise is the reason I came to the monastery. It's easier to learn simplicity and humility, or to follow a rhythm of prayer with dozens of others doing the same thing. Sisters with decades of experience help me see the world through their eyes, and that changes me. When someone says "Sister Edith" - even a shocked and angry driver - it reminds me of my promise; it calls me to grow into my portion of the image of God.
Charlie's next question stunned me. "What do you miss the most?" My thoughts raced and tumbled. "Miss? Miss the MOST? Am I missing things? My dad and sister? But everyone misses family. Ditto for old friends, colleagues and homes." I cast about wildly. I couldn't remember actively missing anything. "Wait! That's it: Lebanese food (now that we have sushi in Duluth)." He was taken aback. "Really?" his expression said, "That's it? Lebanese food?"
I forget about the stereotype of monastic life, that Benedictines are people WITHOUT important things: spouses, children, houses or cabins, romance, cars and snowmobiles, drinks and dinner out, shopping sprees. Sisters experience the things we HAVE: warm community, reverent prayer and deep quiet, our needs provided for in moderation, beautiful surroundings, cultural opportunities, and the loving relationship with God that drew us here in the first place. That only leaves room to miss little things, like tofu donburi or mujadara.
I savored that question for days. I used it in my Christmas letter (http://tackk.com/edithosb-xmas). I didn't know how happy I was. A good question can be a great gift. Thank you, Charlie.