Community life: The good, the bad and the … adjustments

By Sister Stefanie MacDonald, OSB

When I was a postulant, I struggled to adopt the monastic daily schedule. They get up before the sun, for heaven’s sake. Aaargh!

If you can’t tell, I am not a morning person. I walk around in a daze, barely aware of my surroundings. Coffee helps, but still.

So every day, I’d somehow end up in chapel for Lauds at 6:30 a.m., dressed and ready for school (I had to leave right after prayers). On the way to the chapel each day, I’d set my backpack on the bench outside the vocation office, often passing a Sister who was heading for her own office to drop off her purse.

I never greeted her. (Did I mention I’m not a morning person?)

Today, I know what a sign of disrespect it is to not greet one another. Back then, though, it took this Sister’s gentle reproach to wake me up. She shared how she was feeling about my not greeting her; she was worried I didn’t like her.

Of course I felt terrible. This was not my intent! I explained to her my morning daze; I apologized for my lack of respect; I thanked her for bringing it to my attention. I told her I would work on it.

Living in community has been one of the topics we have explored during retreat this week. Perfect for me as I prepare to make my final monastic profession!

As Benedictines, living in community is one of our values and practices. We live together in a monastery, bumping elbows with one another every single day. Sometimes that’s easy (we always have someone to walk with, talk with, have dinner or play dominoes with). Sometimes it’s not so easy (Sisters have quarrels, too).

But whether we are best friends or a little less, St. Benedict says we are to see and honor the divine worth of each Sister. We are to reverence and respect one another. One of the simplest ways of showing this is in our greeting of one another.

St. Benedict writes in the Holy Rule, “Wherever sisters meet, the junior asks her senior for a  blessing … they should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10).

A failure to greet is a form of disrespect. And when we don’t greet because of a disagreement we are both avoiding the situation and disrespecting our Sister.

Living in community demands that we disregard slights. That is, just because a Sister may have treated us in a way that has irked us doesn’t mean we have a right or need to treat them in the same way.

In fact, the greatest gift we can give to each other is patience. A smile or a hello in passing is a small but powerful way of sharing and showing that support.

Over the past 5 years, I have improved. But as in many things I still need to work on morning awareness and attentiveness. Monastic life has changed a lot about me (I don’t leave dishes in the sink till morning anymore!), but I still am not a morning person.

Community life is about making adjustments, growing patience, and being very, very grateful to have one another to come home to, pray with and share with. I am thankful for my community’s patience with – and acceptance of – me!

If you would like to learn more about community life, email me at smacdonald@smmsisters.org. I love to share!!!

2 thoughts on “Community life: The good, the bad and the … adjustments

  1. Ingrid Gordon

    Dear Sister Stefanie,
    I had a wonderful retreat 2 years ago at your Monastery when the Women in Spirit exhibit was at the Museum in Dubuque. I was fortunate to attend the exhibit with Sr. Mary Cope, Sr. Germaine and Sr. Charlotte. What a gift. Getting up for lauds at 6:30 seemed very “romantic” until I actually had to do it, with a couple of time zone changes (I’m from Oregon) added to the mix. I am also not a morning person. It ended up being worth getting up early and I know that there are times of the year that you watch the sun come up during Lauds which must be amazing. Unfortunately I was not able to meet you while I was on retreat but have enjoyed following your blogs. I found the Monastery FB page seemingly by accident and while I’m not a religious person the posts just resonated for me and now I visit the page every morning. I bow to you all while you have your silent retreat, I’m not sure I could do it. I have a park where I like to walk with lots of ducks, geese, squirrels and I have to talk to all the animals. – but it was/is the frequent references to Nature/Creation that attracted me to your FB page in the first place.

    There was such a feeling of peace at the Monastery that was wonderful – and I got to see the deer as well, they were so beautiful.

    I’m not a candidate for religious life for many reasons including age, marital status and religion – but I do enjoy vicariously sharing in your experience.

    Many blessings upon you and your Community. PLease send my best to all. 🙂

    Ingrid Gordon
    your friend from Portland Oregon

    Like

  2. Dear Ingrid,
    I’m sorry we were unable to meet when you visited!
    I know many people think it’s romantic to rise before the sun for Lauds … but it can be hard to do in real life. Especially every day!!
    But, even though some mornings are difficult, you are right: it is very worth it. To hear all those voices praising the Lord together, as one, is awesome. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.
    Blessings to you and your many animal friends. 🙂
    Sister Stefanie

    Like

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