That monk’s cell is beckoning again.
I can recognize the signs from a distance now. I start to say “yes” when the kids ask for more computer or tv time. I neglect the dishes or the laundry. I scowl at just about every news story filtering in. I lose my temper, my motivation and my patience all at the same time. It’s not pretty.
The world breaks into every aspect of my day, the fatigue I feel is overwhelming and I realize how far behind I’ve fallen on just about everything. Then I start to let that inform my view of my self. I don’t return important emails or voice mails, I put off tasks for another day, I let the refrigerator go empty.
In that moment, I picture my monk’s cell…self-contained, small cot like bed, clean wooden floor, neatly stacked clothing and lots of alone time.
Then I remember that I’m not alone. I’m linked into a bigger system, a big loud chaotic frenzied family system.
So the monk’s cell becomes my happy place, unattainable at the moment but existent at the very least. I’ve taken silent retreats. I know how they minister to me. I’ve explored the possibility of one day becoming aBenedictine Oblate (thanks to Kathleen Norris) or taking a pilgrimage to Greece to visit the chapel of St Theodora of Vasta or to Annunciation Convent in Ormylia (thanks to Scott Cairns) but realistically, those things are still years away for me. Living in the “now” is tough and often unsatisfying when there is still a world of possibilities waiting ahead of me.
This is when I stop paying attention to what’s happening around me, in this very moment. I begin to think less about the empty refrigerator and more about the monk’s cell.
And yet, even now, in this very moment, great things are afoot. My kids are making remarkable discoveries all the time. They are making unbelievable observations about the world and about our lives together. My band of little prophets speak into me every single day, sometimes all at once.
My life is a lavish feast of movement and sound, joy and angst. We’re together all the time around here, it can be exhausting. It’s a lot of work. I begin pushing back from this expansive feast because it is stressful. There is a lot of preparation in this feast, there is a lot of care, clean up, passing the ketchup, fighting over the last biscuit. The table is wild, loud, hands reaching, feet kicking under the table. It’s a far cry from the simple, silent meals of the monk.
And then, even as I write this my daughter calls out from behind her Biology book to ask me if I knew that our cells were named so because the scientist who first identified them thought they resembled monk’s cells.
I respond with a deep sigh of recognition. I recognize this moment as sacred, this message as important. Maybe in some strange metaphorical way I did know this. The idea of the cell being individual, self-contained, a universe within itself and yet part of a whole, a bigger organism, a wider community, maybe I knew that somewhere deep inside. Perhaps this explains my tendency to run screaming to my monk’s cell when it all gets to be too much.
Silence has its place even if I’m not entirely sure where it lives at this moment. But there is that cell, within each cell of me, though. And something about knowing that today, hearing it from my daughter in a rough moment, reminds me that great things are afoot. If I’m willing to see them, if I’m willing to pay attention in the present tension.