I hiked to this monastery in the Judean Wilderness. It’s on a small road that ends in Jericho. I was 21 years old then and still monks are living there today as for hundreds of years, preserving their ancient way of life. I remember learning how invaluable these men were in writing down and preserving the Scriptures I read today and therefore how indebted I am. That, and lots of kittens. Anyway, I never gave much thought to there being any other intersection between their lives and the one that I am living…until I read this article.
I pictured the photo above, tucked away and surrounded by brown hills as I read about Carlo Caretto, an Italian man who lived as a hermit in the Sahara Desert with a goat and a Bible dedicating all of his time to prayer and Bible translation. One day he returned home to visit his mother…and this is where it got interesting for me. As written in the article here, “he came to a startling realization: His mother, who for more than thirty years of her life had been so busy raising a family that she scarcely ever had a private minute for herself, was more contemplative than he was.”
As he thought it through, he discovered that, “there was something wonderfully right about what his mother had been doing all these years as she lived the interrupted life amidst the noise and incessant demands of small children. He had been in a monastery, but so had she.”
I won’t quote the whole article but he defines monastery as, “not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time is not ours, but God’s.”
First he is offering that my ‘vocation’ as a mother offers me an opportunity for contemplation, a “desert for reflection”, if you will. “the mother who stays home with small children experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centres of power and social importance. And she feels it. Moreover her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with the mild, that is, to attune herself to the powerlessness rather than to the powerful.”
He also talks about the monastic bell. “A mother…is forced, almost against her will, to constantly stretch her heart. For years, while raising children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in second place, and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out and demanding something. She hears the monastic bell many times during the day and she has to drop things in mid-sentence and respond, not because she wants to, but because it’s time for that activity and time isn’t her time, but God’s time.”
Today, Sela asked me if the babies she will have are with God until she is grown-up. For three minutes I was able to explain to her that God knows our names and has counted each day before we are even born so even though her unborn children are not ‘living’ with God right now, He intimately knows them…for three minutes. The rest of the day is full of dishes, messes, conflict, messes, laundry, messes, the wiping of all sorts of things…must I even go on. So, for three minutes I was aware of the sacred. It doesn’t feel like much when the intent is building a generation. I know, I know…every cuddle, book read, even discipline are all part of the essential…but I’m only talking about what it feels like…
The truth of it is…I’m not adventurously hiking through ancient wildernesses to Biblical cities today. Instead I am in my own monastery where the translation of Scriptures is only words drawn in action of the most mundane of tasks, prayers only exist as one sentence thoughts scattered throughout the day, where I’m surrounded by the powerless and mild and where I must answer the proverbial monastic bell more times than I can count. But also where if I choose to look, God will meet me in new ways.