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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Take No Shoes

Okay, so it's Ash Wednesday. I've never seen anyone with a cross of ashes on their head, like that girl in the picture. The priest does make a cross on the forehead with the ashes, but it just always comes out looking like a big smudge.

Since we're embarking on Lent, my favorite time of year (except for my Christmas mania) and we're giving up things (at least, I hope we're giving up things) it turns out to be a good day to talk about this story, finally. I hope you've had a chance to give it the once over. The reader that brought it to my attention asked me what I thought about it. I have some thoughts.

If you're too weak from fasting to go read the story, I'll give it to you in a nutshell. Three couples (I think it was three) and their children decided to go live the monastic life, i.e. live frugally and give everything else to the community around them. They also wanted to become more active in helping those around them in the community in any other way they could find.


They found it difficult.


The first problem they had was the paring down. How much is too much? How little is too little? They had problems splitting up the chores and became aggravated with each other when some people shirked their duties. They had problems finding anyone to help in the community.

To me the whole thing boiled down to this one sentence: They had difficulty deciding how many bottles of salad dressing they should have.

Flag on the Field! Bottles? Meaning you have a choice of several different kinds of salad dressing for your monastic lifesytle?

The next time I have to hear about how crazy it is that priest can't marry and raise a family and be a priest, I'm going to blow up this aritcle and mount it onto foambroad and march around and around with it on a big sandwich board around my neck.

What is a monastery? It's a place where individuals go for a comtemplative life of solitary prayer. "But there are a bunch of monks in a monastery!" you say. Yes, there are. That's because it is SO hard to do, you need some support of other people who are doing it, too.

The first monks were hermits. They lived alone in the desert. Some of them lost their marbles. They started living a little closer to one another for support and eventually they just started living in communities. But the monks don't live in dormatories. They each have a cell.

And what's in the cell? Why, three bottles of salad dressing, of course.

Now you see why I think it boils down to that sentence?

A bed, a blanket, a prayerbook, a crucifix. Maybe a chair. Probably not.

No salad dressing at all. Not even one bottle of low fat vinegrette.

And! NO CHILDREN! Not even a little skinny one that only likes to eat dry oatmeal and hard bread.

Okay, so these people in the article are not Catholic monks and they are taking liberties with the word monastery. Let's give them that.

But I do think they would be helped greatly if they simply looked to a different model of community living, like a kibbutz or a commune or something. And someone has to sit them down and tell them that shirking their agreed to duties is not an option. We have ways of dealing with shirkers in our community lifestyle. For example:

Sister Mary Didn't Sweep the Floor will do better tomorrow.

Here's another tip: if you want to pare down your lifestyle, take some good advice from oh, say, Jesus, and pare it down to nothing. Take no shoes, no purse. Take no leather couch and no salad dressing.

I do applaud these people for their effort, and they are finding ways to help in their community now. I'm not sure I like having children involved. I'm not sure I would like the children not to be involved.

What they're doing is a little dangerous. But Jesus was a little dangerous, in what He asks of us. Loving one's enemies isn't for the feint of heart.

Neither is community living.


Anonymous said...

When I first read the article, I thought they needed some kind of centralized authority to delegate chores and decide how to allocate money. Then I realized, whoa, that sounds like a cult. Then it's a slippery slope to trading wives and pouring Kool-Aid. Community good; cult bad.

The phase "everyday life seemed to suck up all the energy" leapt out at me, because that's how I feel sometimes, raising a large family. I don't have any time leftover for volunteering with my parish. Then again, someday the children will grow up, so I'm told, and I can do those sorts of things.

How do you and Sister St. Aloysius decide how to allocate chores, if that is not too personal a question. (You mentioned once how annoying it was that she hadn't cleaned the stove in a long while.)

Even among groups who don't live as a community, it's a problem that some people feel put upon. You mentioned that the ladies' card parties have some ladies who feel this way.

Sister Mary Martha said...

You just offer it up and do it anyway.

Anonymous said...

The people involved seem frustrated at how hard they have to work to keep up their own household, taking away their time for going out to serve the community. I can't help but think that this is why St. Paul exhorts the clergy (and non-ordained who consecrate themselves to God) not to marry and have families. They are two different vocations. You cannot really do a good job at both at the same time.

I think that in dedicating themselves to faithfully working in their own household, they are serving Christ. If they don't have time to serve him outside their four walls because of it, that's okay.

Anonymous said...

Sister, our Pastor makes very nice Ash crosses. I did notice when he blessed the ashes he sprinkled a lot of holy water making it more moist not dry like "ashes."

Many of our parishioners had very nice crosses on their foreheads. I heard the older lady in the pew behind me comment to her adult son that Father was very neat making the crosses.

Most of my years I've had the smudge, but this year I'm stylin'


Rebekka said...

Here we don't get crosses on our forehead, the ashes are put on the tops of our heads. What's up with that?

Anonymous said...

Great post...

Sparki said...

When I read the article, my first thought was, "Leave it to evangelical protestants to try to reinvent the wheel!" I had a friend who lived in a kibbutz in Israel -- I lost touch with her when they had to evacuate after their area was being heavily bombed -- and they sort of had it down pat, with kids involved, of course. It would have been a good model for these folks to employ, if it would have ever occurred to them that what they envisioned may have already been tried at least once before in the history of the world.

Having been evangelical protestant myself at one point, though, I know these folks are generally all "forward thinking" and they don't see much value in anything historic. If it's not "new," then it's not the "new work the Lord is doing within us" and so it doesn't count.

I also have a pretty good idea why the shirking of responsibilities happened. First, there is the general inclination to laziness that's fairly inherent in the U.S. culture -- if somebody else is around to do it, then there's no need to trouble oneself. Second, there is that nice-and-neat, "I was doing the Lord's work" excuse. "I was teaching a Bible Study, so I didn't have time to mop the floor," or, "I was witnessing to those drunk fellows on the corner, so I didn't have time to wash the dishes..." sort of a thing. The people who were home doing the housework and teaching the kids about Jesus couldn't really complain because the other guy was really "taking a risk" and "putting himself out there for the Lord." So, the people at home doing the housework feel like losers twice over: not only are they not "getting out there" to "witness for the Lord," they're feeling grumbly toward the ones that do.

The other thing I sensed was that there was too much "make nice face" going on. The one mother spoke as if she was worn out from always being "on duty" -- cheerful and selfless and whatever -- with no time to just vent and complain and be crabby because the "walls were too thin." Check me on this, Sister, but one can't just *pretend* to make nice in communal living. One actually has to BE nice.

I compare it to my life as a newlywed. I loved my husband (still do -- even more), but when we got back from our honeymoon and actually had to live in the same household for the first time, he drove me crazy. And I drove HIM crazy. I have often said that it was a good thing we got the duplex with an upstairs and a downstairs instead of that tiny downtown efficiency apartment (basically one room), because we needed the physical distance from time to time. Those early weeks were fraught with ridiculous arguments about trash can liners and how often hand towels should be changed and whether or not we should recycle.

So when these people came together -- two families and one single fellow, right? -- they were thrown into the same sort of thing, but it was exponentially more complex because it wasn't just two people, it was five adults and five kids, and both of the couples had already been through this once and didn't fathom what it would be like to have to renegotiate all this stuff they'd already worked out as a couple. And the single guy, well, he'd never been through it at all, so he was likely completely blind-sighted. Like I was, when I was newly married.

As for the kid element, there was obviously some issues with varying rules. The parents who let the kids jump on their furniture or whatever probably didn't even think that the other couple might have had stricter rules, and that couple may have let their kids play video games from birth while the first couple wouldn't even let kids see a television until they were in their teens. Suddenly, the parental stand-by of, "We do things differently in our house," doesn't work anymore, because that other family *is part* of our house.

I don't have a solution for that. My friend in the Israeli Kibbutz lived in a townhouse for just her family, and so did all the other families. Maybe that's the only way?

eastmoormom said...

read the article.
makes me think that if the characters in Hair had grown up with parents from the 80's this is what the movie would kind of look like.
i get all uncomfortable when i think of little children being around strangers....just make me feel very squeemish.
.....my ashes were pretty dark and vivid yesterday...

Anonymous said...

Sister, my children are a great blessing to me, as I remind myself daily. Sometimes several times a day. Sometimes I chant it to myself like a mantra.

Anyway, one of their favorite Sundays of the year is Palm Sunday when we each get one of those veeeerrrrry long, pointy palm fronds. We bring them home and tuck them behind our prominently displayed painting of Jesus, but then what? Poor Jesus is starting to sag under the weight of many years of palms. I know they are blessed so I can't just put them in the trash, but what can I do with all these aging fronds?

Sarah - Kala said...

You can burn the palm fronds and fragments in a pit in the ground and cover them up (bury them). That's what we did. Anything blessed should be burned/buried. Please correct me if I'm wrong.


Sarah - Kala said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah - Kala said...

By anything blessed, I meant sacramentals (rosaries, scapulars, candles . . . ).

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you store the palms somewhere for a year and then bring it to your parish on the day before Ash Wednesday so they can be burned and used for the anointing. At least that's how they do it in my parish here in New Zealand :)

Sparki, I agree so much with what you say. It is rather like sharing a house with flatmates - which, for some reason, has failed more than it has worked for me here in the west rather than in my less affluent home country, where people have to learn to live with less autonomy and therefore suppress their own desires and egos to be able to get along with one another.

My partner and I had a flatmate (I know it's nothing to do with choosing a spiritual/communal/monastic way of life, but hear me out) who...was...plain...awful. But we sucked it up because we couldn't really believe that there was someone that ignorant/racist/incompetent. I thought, surely there is a human being underneath all that and maybe if I continued to show compassion and kindness he would stop throwing his weight around the house and realise that a foreigner (a type of person whom he generally blamed for everything that was going wrong in his country) and a Catholic (idolaters in his estimation) was being genuinely kind to him. It didn't work - he got on his high horse and rode away on clouds of sanctimony and indignation.

So I think it's safe to say that the more affluent you become (three kinds of dressing as opposed to one or none at all) the more your life becomes needlessly complicated and the more you complicate life for other people.

I forget to mention one of his zingers: "Poor people have no morals and can't raise their children properly. (Insert rich suburb here) people have everything so they do the best of it!"


Wendy said...

My main issue was with the kids. You have the responsibility to raise your kids as Christians, but you also have the responsibility to protect them from drug addicts.

Thanks for bringing this up, Sister! I blogged about this here: http://zoomtimes.blogspot.com/2008/02/domestic-church-vs-domestic-monastery.html

Anonymous said...

About the palms: you can't just throw them away, but we burn ours in the fireplace. They don't burn very well, though, so you have to stay right there and keep poking at them.....another thing to offer up.
Just an aside....when I was teaching religion in a Catholic high school I had a little sign on the front of my desk that said "Offer it up". The kids got used to me saying "offer it up" to their little whines and pretty soon they were saying it themselves! Maybe in a sort of mocking way (like, isn't she a dork?) but, hey, these were teenagers and I'll take anything I can get.

Joan said...

After reading that article, I know why Catholics who live in "communities" such as the Little Portion Hermitage make out so much better than these people. Each family is given their "space". They dont' take in "strangers". They have "schedules". And lastly the "rules" are made up before they get there. We Catholics are pretty smart aren't we??