"But a religious house, no matter what's going on there in terms of people's personalities, is first and foremost a house of prayer. Those in it spend hours in prayer. The layers of all those years of prayer do something to the spirit of the building itself. They are houses where details because every work, no matter how small, is a prayer. Where every task of living is preformed mindful of the God from whom all things come."
Bishop Edmond Lee Browning, A Year of Days, September 30
From the beginning of my time with SpiritCare, I have had a sense of being in a monastery when I am in some skilled nursing and assisted living communities. Even in the chaos that is often present, there are those, both staff and residents, who pray, and pray often. I believe these prayers matter. They open the gate for the Holy to come and simply be with us. These prayers help us all be in the world differently; that is more lovingly, more compassionately, and more trusting of God and one another. I find myself asking more and more, "Why would we not want to age in a house of prayer?"
In that light, I want to re-share a piece I wrote in March of 2008. For those of you who have journeyed with me from the beginning of my ministry, you may start to see some repetition as I sort through my writings. On October 15, I will celebrate my 9th year with SpiritCare. I do not see this sorting process as simply looking back, but rather a condensing of how I believe God has called me. The frail and the vulnerable have taught me much. I am grateful, and my commitment to be a monastic presence in these communities continues to deepen. What I wrote on March 3, 2008 still rings deeply true for me today. I am grateful.
A couple of weeks ago a woman made a comment to me about my writing. She said she really liked it but she expressed some surprise. “You write about very ordinary things.” It is true that I write about what I see and hear as I make my way in my daily life. Yet, I am not sure I understand what the word ordinary means. Maybe I try to celebrate just how extraordinary the ordinary is. If we truly believe that life is sacred, surely the ordinary should just glisten for us as the precious jewel that it is.
I have recently come across a quote by Ronald Rolheiser in the book, Small Surrenders by Emile Griffin: Certain vocations…offer a perfect setting for living a contemplative life. They provide a desert for reflection, a real monastery. I think I understand some of the simplicity and honesty that is implied in Rolhieser’s statement for I experience it in my work, particularly when I visit skilled nursing facilities. There, much falls away. Possessions have been passed on to others. Friends and family often are not physically present. There are no luxurious appointments to reassure oneself of one’s position in society. Mobility is, at best, at a minimum. Even that most reassuring statement, “Well, at least I have my health,” is a mantra that no longer rings true.
Yet, it is there, at the end of these long life journeys, where we experience the vast frontier of God opening up before us. While I do not climb physical mountains or sail the Pacific Ocean, I journey with others as they make their way through days and nights of longing, terror, sorrow, and yes, joy. As we cross these valleys and mountains, and make our way across sometimes stormy seas, I have the sense of God guiding and calling us to the border where we all will eventually slip from this physical life. My role is not to help people die, but to help people live, regardless of whether they remain here for the next three years, or the next five minutes. The timing I must leave to God. Nonetheless, the more I journey, the more convinced I am that life, not death, is eternal.
The image of working in a monastery is wonderfully reassuring for me. It reminds me that I serve the eternal love and light of Christ within us all – that which can never be extinguished, not in this life and most assuredly not in the next. It is that precious jewel that glistens within our extraordinarily ordinary lives.