st. ben’s day 5: what I’ve learned so far


August 12, 2009 – St. Benedict’s Monastery

It’s hump day! Though Wednesday is hump day for the rest of the world, it’s hump day for me at St. Ben’s as well. My week here runs Saturday to Saturday, though the first and last days really don’t count, since they’re halves only. In other words, I’m in the dead-center middle of my stay. Since middle places tend to be good for reflection, that’s what I’m going to do today in sharing…

The Top Ten Things I’ve Learned while on writing retreat:

10. Nocturnal Necessity. If given an non-pressured choice in whether to rise and fall early or late, late wins out. (I’m my father’s daughter in this.) And who said the early bird always gets the worm? There seem to be plenty of worms around here for everyone, even for late-risers.

9. Favorite Fuel. With a little chocolate, an ample supply of Coke Zero and some salty snacks, amazing strides can be made. As it turns out, chocolate is a staple, after all.

8. Prolific Potential. Having experienced this environment two years in a row now, I’m convinced that if I weren’t a mother of five children, I’d be a prolific writer. That said, I don’t wish to will away my current life or my children, so I’ll take what I can get when it’s offered. I’m convinced more than ever, though, that I’m not going to be cured of the writing bug anytime soon. Though it doesn’t define me in whole, it’s an essential part of who I am.

7. Soulful Sounds. Take a group of religious sisters, put them in a chapel with great acoustics, listen them to release their gift of music, and your soul will be satisfactorily saturated the rest of the day.

6. Grub Grinch. I used to adore meal preparation and cooking, but doing so for a family of seven has taken some of the fun out of it for me. In not having to plan meals for several days now, I’ve come to realize I’ve turned into a bit of a grub Grinch in everyday life. Not in the eating of it (roast beast is always a treat), but in all those steps that come before and after it.

5. Terrificly Tidy. For years, because I’ve not been able to keep up with the housekeeping standards of some, I’ve been led to believe this may be an inherent character flaw. Not so, I’ve learned here. Given a manageable environment, I’m quite adept at keeping my surroundings sparkling. And no, I’m not willing to get rid of the kids or change anything else in my life drastically enough to maintain these high standards right now. The "shoveling in a snowstorm theory" still applies at home.

4. Prayer Procrastinator. I thought that, given this prayerful environment, I’d be sending out hourly petitions. Instead, I’ve discovered that even when the conditions are right, there’s a life to be lived, and my prayer time still comes mainly in the in-between places, like walking to meals, or in the shower, or just as I rise or lay my head on the pillow.

3. Childcare Charm. Some might question a mother’s dedication to her family as she leaves her children for a week. I can testify that it’s absolutely possible to have the best of both worlds in this regard. The key is to make sure they’re all in good hands. When the safety and happiness of the children is assured, it’s not only possible but desirable to take a break if it’s offered. The kids will not feel abandoned. They’ll think that, perhaps, you do have a life beyond them after all, and it’s kind of a neat thing. It might even help them search for a balanced life when they become parents someday.

2. Work to Play. It’s true that if you work hard to complete the essential tasks, the playing that follows is doubly refreshing. And you have to make time to play, even when you’re on a "working retreat." All work and no play makes Roxi a dull girl. I’ve been happy to have a few off-campus dinners and a movie planned this week, along with all the wonderful time spent on campus. (By the way, Julie & Julia is an excellent movie!)

1. Essential Beauty. Though some say aesthetics are optional, those who seek the creative life know otherwise. Wherever I go, I find life and inspiration from nature and the beauty that’s been cultivated around me. It is absolutely essential to any life lived in abundance, including spiritual abundance. Beauty is not optional, it’s essential. And I thank the Sisters here for reminding me of that, and for taking the time to cultivate it in the many ways that they do.

In what ways do you cultivate beauty in your life, or seek it out in others?