Vision of St. Benedict
Time itself is topsy-turvy with a newborn. Day is night, night is day, and, as we all know, whoever coined the phrase sleeping like a babyclearly never had one. I had no idea how much I appreciated clear routines until I started losing my sense of time – and then my sense of sanity – those first few weeks and months with a new baby.
Having lived 29 years doing what I wanted, when I wanted, I was well-practiced at wasting time. This habit did not immediately disappear after my son was born. I would often spend whole naptimes playing Scrabble and Word Twist on Facebook and then wonder where the time went. He’s awake, but… what about reading my book? What about the dishes? What about taking a nap myself?
This was a short road to chaos, resentment, and guilt. But in the midst of this postpartum mire, I discovered something most unexpected.
No, not running off to join a monastery, however tempting it might have seemed at times. Rather, the analogy of the domestic monastery, ably laid out by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, was the beautiful image I needed to understand my vocation. The further discovery of Benedictine principles gave me necessary tools for using my time well.
I read Fr. Rolheiser’s essay when my son was four months old. Because I appreciate and admire religious life, I was open to the force of his domestic monastery analogy The essay helped me understand how motherhood, too, could be a contemplative vocation, though with entirely different external circumstances.
The monk, according to the Rule of St. Benedict (whose feast is this week), “on hearing the signal for an hour of the divine office… will immediately set aside what he has in hand and go with utmost speed… nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God” (Rule, ed. T. Fry, O.S.B., 43).
“The monastic bell,” said Fr. Rolheiser, “was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God’s agenda.”
With this in mind, I began imagining our home as a monastery, and my son’s cries as the monastery bell ringing. And this changed everything.
I soon learned what St. Benedict knew: time can be sanctified. Prayer not only marks the hours of the Benedictine day, but transforms it. They strive for a harmonious life of prayer and work, each day’s orderly pursuits spiritually elevated and working on all souls of the monastic community, deepening their love of God and neighbor.
This sounds Edenic until St. Benedict throws in “obedience,” “stability,” and “conversion of life,” the Benedictine vows, and we remember that monks, flawed people just like us, have a tough row to hoe.
But then again, so do mothers. The Benedictine vows applied to me, too. To my desire to shirk duty, St. Benedict said, “Obedience.” To my desire to run away, he said, “Stability.” In all, he said, “Conversion of life.”
Becoming obedient to my “bell” helped give purpose to my time. When I was with my son, I was really with my son, and not off in the Land of Wishful Thinking. And I began to use my downtime as the valuable gift it was. I’d pray, I found time for exercise and sleep, and I even began learning French – a new hobby!
When I didn’t use my time, I felt… well, cantankerous and controlling. Again. But a good use of time helped me be obedient and stable in my vocation and see it blossom with joy.
When I was pregnant, my friend Susie gave me some advice she had received from her spiritual director: “The first time the baby wakes up at night, do your meditation,” she said. “The second time, say a Rosary. The third time, do some spiritual reading. This changed everything for me.”
And then she laughed. “It only took me six kids to figure it out!”
This changed everything. She was right – when I said a drowsy Rosary while my son nursed at 2:30 a.m., I was content. Time – and my own well-being – became transformed for the better.
- The Rule of St. Benedict in English, ed. Fr. Timothy Fry, O.S.B.
- Monastic Spirituality Self-Study (free online resource), Fr. Luke Dyslinger, O.S.B.
- Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Benedictine Oblate
- St. Benedict and St. Therese: The Little Rule and the Little Way, Longenecker
- The Quotidian Mysteries: Liturgy, Laundry, and “Women’s Work”, Kathleen Norris, Benedictine Oblate (NB: Norris is Protestant and some of her writing reflects this.)
In the Benedictine Spirit:
- A Mother’s Rule of Life, Holly Pierlot
Copyright 2012 Rhonda Ortiz