The end of my visit overlaps with Halloween, and I had assumed the nuns wouldn’t recognize the holiday. Instead, they ask if I would arrange a collection of plastic jack-o-lanterns on the chapel steps. After Vespers, we wait in front of the chapel. Soon children begin to arrive, driven up the long road to the monastery by their parents. Somehow the basket of candy ends up in my hands to pass out. The candies include foil-wrapped chocolates that look like bloody eye balls and severed fingers. My favorites are the ones shaped like detached ears. I act like I’m pulling off my ear and putting it in the kids’ candy baskets. The nuns laugh at my antics and soon I’m tugging out my eyes and breaking off my fingers. “What are you dressed as?” Some of the kids ask the interns and me. We look at each other: at the mud on our jeans and the hay in our hair. “We’re farmers!” we say in unison and laugh.
I want to make a joke about how the nuns all dressed as the same thing, but I think better of it. As I bite my tongue, I overhear one of the nuns shout joyfully to the children, “We’re dressed as nuns!” I am delighted to have overheard this, to realize that the nuns, despite the serious nature of their contemplative lives, can kick up their heels and laugh at themselves.
The next morning I say my goodbyes. I write a check and tuck it into the donation box. Technically, guests are not charged for their stay, but a donation is always appreciated and I consider it a polite gesture considering they’ve fed and sheltered me for a week. I decide on a modest amount, about what it might have cost to stay six nights at an inexpensive hotel.
Back to the freeways, back to cell phone reception, to internet connections, to television and loud music if I want it. Now I am nervous about returning to all these distractions, afraid I will lose touch with the newfound peaceful rhythm of my days. If I want to continue to approach work as prayer, I know it will require introducing a greater degree of balance into my life: time blocked off for activities besides work, time spent with no distractions but my own thoughts. I need to change my mindset, to see how time spent in solitude and quiet is not only legitimate, but a necessity—its own form of prayer. I understand now that it requires faith to suspend expectations of productivity, to believe there doesn’t always need to be a tangible product for time to have been well spent.
I see, too...»