Three weeks ago, I slid on a patch of ice and crashed right into a parked car as I walked across a parking lot. Up until that moment, I had been priding myself on how well I had been surviving the absurd amount of cold and snow and ice that has plagued North Dakota this winter. However, my broken shin bone brought me back down to earth. Okay, it was not actually broken in the medical sense, but it sure felt like it was broken, and the nurses certainly did not have to laugh at me as I limped around moaning! Currently, my shin is still sore and I am officially tired of three-inch ice chunks, raging blizzards, and negative 30-degree temperatures (that’s Fahrenheit and actual temperature, not wind chill!). We have had some guests lately from tropical climates (you know, like Arizona, California, Florida), and all they can talk about is how COLD it is here.
North Dakota weather is unpredictable and often changes quickly – it is sometimes dangerous, sometimes exciting, sometimes calm and serene, and can sometimes even bring a person to tears with its beauty (our gorgeous sunsets, for example). Our weather is many things, but it is never boring!
North Dakota weather is actually a lot like living in a religious community. Benedictine monastic life is all about community. We (the Sisters of Annunciation Monastery) seek God through community – we pray, eat, work, and play together. Sometimes community life is turbulent and awful…when a Sister offends another or when something traumatic happens to one of us. Sometimes it is calm…our rhythm of daily prayer together can provide us with a soothing routine in the midst of our often busy schedules. Sometimes it is exciting…when one of our Sisters receives an honor or takes a new job or when we accept a new member. Like the weather, our Benedictine community of Sisters here in Bismarck, North Dakota, is many things, but boring is not one of them.
Community life is full of “broken shin” moments, times when I wonder how I ever thought that living with thirty-five other women of varying personalities could possibly be a good idea. For example, there was the time recently when I worked hard on a new recipe, only to be told by a certain Sister that it tasted like “mud.” I told the offending Sister that she could just go eat mud, and the whole situation went quickly downhill from there!
In contrast, a major sunny weather moment occurred when we managed to take a community photo in early January of this year. This was the first picture we had taken together as a whole community in a very long time, so it was quite momentous! As I watched my community of Sisters attempt to get organized for the picture that day, I realized how ridiculously happy I am to be a Sister of Annunciation Monastery. As we tried to get situated on the risers and figure out where everyone should stand, we talked, argued, and laughed with one another as a family does when undertaking a big project together. This sense of family warmth in a Benedictine community is strengthened and renewed each day when we gather to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. It is what ties us together in our mutual search for God. It is what draws others to join us. It is our lifeblood – our reason for vowing to live together forever following the Rule of St. Benedict.
Our community closeness brings us through the cold, windy, and icy times in our life together. We may occasionally fall and break our shins as we struggle to live monastic life, but our strong sense of community will always bring healing and calmness back to our lives and enable us to get up again and keep going. It may be frigidly cold outside these days, but inside a Benedictine monastery there is warmth and hope and lots of sun!