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Monk in the World Guest Post: Karen Harris

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Karen Harris’ reflection, “Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down.”

What I have discovered at this spiritually scholastic portal is that the profundity of life is equal to the level of “play” in which you are willing, and led, to engage.  This can only be accomplished when you find and then put yourself in the hands of accomplished and genuine people you have learned to trust and love.  Having found these people- I wished to send a thank you email to the Abbess, her husband and the rest of the talented people that are brought together here to teach us the ways of monastic living and so this invitation to submission has been a calling opportunity to do so.  Alas, the Abbey has kept me so busy on my off hours with rich retreats and far-flung explorations that my unfinished love note has sat on my ‘desktop’ waiting.  Hopefully with a world in Kairos time, this slight delay in submission will be overlooked.  

As a soldier and then wife of a soldier, I have spent many an isolated season of my 50 plus years living in rural regions of the United States and Japan.  But nothing had prepared me, or any of us for that matter, for the isolation of the pandemic.  And for me, as the sole caretaker of my disabled husband and furry household the fear and trepidation that accompanied every task had begun to weaken what had always been a very vital and progressive social vibe.   My activity in my neighborhood social club and the local church that had been my lingering touchstones vanished with the quickness of a utility outage and as the months ticked by I was desperately lonely for friends to have fun with, though I couldn’t have told you at the time just how much of a hole it was leaving in my joie de vivre.  

Abbey of the Arts was introduced by a friend and fellow congregant at the church of which we are both members, Bethel Lutheran in Templeton CA.   Thorjia gave a personal testimony one Sunday before the regular online sermon.  She talked about a recent ‘mystical’ interaction, lo conversation she had with St.Francis that had been facilitated by an Abbess in Ireland with which she was on a first-name basis.  Like an excited child, utterly captured by her account and discovery, I looked up the website she had mentioned.  After devouring everything I could find on the Abbey’s site, I signed up for the free Monk in the World self-guided retreat and life’s small domestic pleasures began to expand with every day that I participated.   I was a kindergartner in a new school and I soaked up the information and companionship like a sponge.  It was also like a tall drink of ‘water’ that quenched a thirst I had forgotten existed.  I listened; I cried; I drank;  I was nourished and grew stronger

I have meditated every morning for years but now it is deeper.  Even through COVID I always have celebrated Sabbath with joy and celebration as my husband-who never went to church with me physically- has now been able to join me every Sunday for my church’s online broadcast.  I wear dressier-not quite church- attire and it always feels so good to get out of my working-from-home- yoga pants.  I also drop all need for domestic duties aside from dishes, bedmaking etc. for the day.   As a student monk I have a much deeper appreciation for the reason why there is so much peace and rest in these practices-peace, rest and…. activity. The fellow teachers and leaders that work with the Abbey always act in ways that show they stand shoulder to shoulder with Christine and John in the Abbey’s mission and responsibilities.   These frequent demonstrations of loyalty and egality make the entire experience together at the Abbey feel more geographically shared- like one of a dormitory or barracks where everyone is living like brother and sister.  Simon’s songs, Betsey’s dancing and John’s words of wisdom-at some point you cannot resist the urge to reach out and expand your own faith and your own expression in ways not before imagine.   A threshold calls.  

Before the onset of my husband’s illness I had developed a one woman show about Phoebe Hearst, mother of William Randolph Hearst and the (unrecognized) founder of so many American institutions. I researched her for years and have a library of material along with a closet of period costume (circa 1900).  When I could no longer leave home- my performing experiment seemed to come to an unnatural and premature end.   The inspiration and innovation that has simultaneously been engrained in me here in my daily practices with the Abbey are now inspiring me to develop a new and interactive doorway online for this amazing American heroine, and religious pilgrim.  The door continues to open wider.

Ring around the Rosy’s lyrics embody human history’s ability to transform desolate stories of loss into the comfort of child’s play.   I feel the Abbey of the Arts has done similar miracles with COVID 19 and its accompanying isolation expanding their outreach to an ever-widening circle of singing, dancing, God-praising participants and is teaching me- a Monk in the World -to do the same.  My gratitude expands.

Karen Harris lives in Paso Robles California with her husband David, dog Cowboy and cat, Neleh (Nay-la).  She has served in the US Army as a Russian interpreter, been a tour guide to thousands at Hearst Castle, but her toughest and most important job was raising three sons to be men.

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