Thursday, June 14, 2012

Washing Dishes With Monks

No, I haven't really washed dishes with monks, although I would be willing.  I make pilgrimages to Mepkin Abbey, where the monks do their own dishes, and visitors aren't allowed in the kitchen.  And the kitchen has all of the modern conveniences, like industrial strength dishwashers.

I remember visiting a friend once near the end of my Senior year of college.  She and her brother shared a small, two bedroom duplex.  Their kitchen had a stove and a refrigerator, but no other modern conveniences.  After meals, we washed dishes by hand.  I talked about how much I loved washing the dishes.

My friend said, "It's because it's homey and you don't have to do it multiple times a day."

Later, my friend and I would share a small cottage of a house, where again, our kitchen had a refrigerator and a very small stove, but no other modern conveniences.  I continued to love washing dishes by hand, but now, I am grateful for my dishwasher, especially after I've had people over.

I remind myself of my friend's dishwashing comments every time I glamorize monastic life.  When I despair over my inability to carry on the most mundane of monastic tasks (why can't I pray a minimum of three times a day?  Why is it so hard?), I remind myself that the monks probably don't see themselves as doing anything extraordinary.

No, they'd probably remind me that their entire schedule is set up to make sure that the community prays at regular time.  Mine is not.  I'm a visitor to their lives, just like I was to my friend's cozy domesticity when I washed dishes.  I can plunge myself into their community, but it's not realistic to think that my own community will comply with my monastic yearnings upon my return.

I do wonder if my monastic yearnings should be pointing me to a different life.  I know that joining a monastic community is not realistic for me right now.  I have a house that I'm unlikely to be able to sell and a husband.  I have a job.  There aren't any Protestant monastic communities within commuting distance.

So, for now, I will continue my lonely monasticism.  I will try to forgive myself for my lapses.  I will remind myself that even the monks must occasionally feel a hollowness to their practices and wonder if they're living the lives God intended for them. 


rbarenblat said...

Much here resonates with me. Judaism doesn't have a monastic tradition, but I can understand the yearning. For my part, I struggle sometimes to figure out why it's so hard to pray three times a day; I know that when I am able to do it (when I'm on retreat, e.g.) it feeds and sustains my spirit, and yet when I am home with all the aggravations and distractions of ordinary life I don't often manage it. I tell myself that this, too -- getting on the wagon, falling off the wagon, getting on again -- is a form of prayer, a form of spiritual life, and that I need to live the life I have, not lose myself in fantasies of the life I might have if I were "better."

Kristin said...

Thanks so much for your comment--good to know I'm not the only one who struggles with these issues. I love the idea that beginning again (and again and again) is a form of prayer.