I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Hilary Lohrman’s reflection on finding the sacred in the ordinary:
I am writing on behalf of the ordinary.
Nothing special, nothing especially interesting. Just the simple, daily, ordinary content of life and the discovery that God resides in exactly that.
When I was a younger woman, I had spiritual ambitions (though I wouldn’t have described it that way, of course}. Perhaps to become a priest, or possibly a spiritual director with a large, successful practice. At the very least, I would be a model Benedictine Oblate, guiding and teaching others how to follow the monastic way of life. I rather divided my life into the spiritual—i.e. important–and everything else, which was less so. I fulfilled some of my ambitions, working full-time as a pastoral assistant in a busy parish and completing a training program as a spiritual director. I became an Oblate group leader. Respected as a teacher and a retreat leader, I accomplished a great deal for God.
Fast forward a decade and a half, and how things changed. Following our move from Kansas City to a small farming community, I felt completely lost. My husband had grown up here and his family was well known. On the other hand, I knew no one, and certainly no one knew me. Life moved at a much slower pace and my gifts—or what I thought were my gifts—had no audience. I was angry and bereft. I really hated where I found myself and longed to return to what seemed like glory days. (Oh, to be back in Egypt!)
A wise Benedictine sister once told me, “When you feel like running away, it is usually because you are sick of yourself.” I certainly felt like running away, but that, of course, was impossible. I loved my husband and I loved our beautiful home in the country, with its woods and fields. I was responsible for the three beautiful horses in the pasture, along with an assortment of dogs and cats. No escape. I was stuck here, in what felt like a spiritual desert.
And we all know what happens in the desert. Burning bushes and exile and wandering and God speaking on a mountain and dry bones piling up. The desert is a place of prophets and demons, promises and doubts. The desert is a place where the food is provided directly from the hand of God, and is NOT what you want.
In the city, I had been introduced to the monastic Rule of St. Benedict and had pledged to live according to those values as a Benedictine oblate. I loved Mount St. Scholastica, my home monastery. I loved the Sisters, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the sense of timelessness I found there. It nourished my soul and the Rule was like a study trellis upon which my faith could grow. The core values of the Rule—stability, obedience, and conversion—became the organizing principles of my spiritual life. I loved the Rule and the centuries of spiritual riches behind it.
However, it was when I was separated from my faith community and all the roles I played within it, that I discovered I needed the Rule. When all the external support was taken away, how was I to live? When I had no one to teach or guide or lead, how was I to live? When I looked up and saw only desert, how was I to live? (Can these bones live?)
Stability. Obedience. Conversion.
Stability: Don’t run away. God is here. Right here.
Obedience: God is speaking. In this person, in this situation, in this place of need or hurt or loss. Listen.
Conversion: Let yourself be changed. Rest in God’s love. Trust. You will not be abandoned, you will be made new.
A faithful student, I had studied the Rule and followed the Rule (not perfectly) and knew in my heart that the monastic path was my path. But Mount St. Scholastica, while an amazing gift, was not the place where God was leading me. The beloved Sisters were not the community that God had established for me. I was called to live as a monk in my world.
What does this look like? Taking time to make eye contact and greet each store clerk I meet. Opening our home to host the wedding of a young neighbor. Adopting a frail, elderly horse, bound for slaughter if a home could not be found. Maintaining a faithful correspondence with friends now at a distance. Being ridiculously patient with puppy accidents, injured cats, and neighbors who support the National Rifle Association. It looks like surrendering my prejudices and preferences on a daily basis, and extending Benedictine hospitality to most unlikely angels.
It is knowing bone-deep the truth that the implements of the kitchen and barn are every bit as holy as the plate and chalice on the altar.
When God led me into the desert of unwanted change, God intended to heal that part of me that divided life into segments of holy and not-so-holy. God invited me into intimacy in the ordinary. God’s face reveled in the face of my spouse, my dogs, my scraggly barn cat, and my horses. In my neighbors and the man who delivers my packages from amazon.com.
There is no place where God is not.
The lesson from the desert: don’t run away. I am here. Trust and you will be made new. The monk in the world walks with God In this ordinary, extraordinary place, a place where God says silently, always and everywhere I am with you.
Hilary Lohrman is a lay woman and Benedictine oblate of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, Kansas, US. She makes her home in rural northern Indiana with her husband, Ed, three dogs, two cats, two horses, and one very cheeky donkey. She is a mother, grandmother, retired RN, and sometime spiritual companion/director.