The holy work of tending to life

“Everything is work. We either accept it or we fight against life.” This was the declaration of the Mother Superior and leader of Regina Laudis, a Benedictine Abbey of 36 nuns in Connecticut offering their lives in prayer and cooperative work with God and all creation. This community raises beef and dairy cattle, makes cheese, raises sheep and chickens, cultivates a garden and compost operation, and even dabbles in pottery, weaving, artistry, leather making, and blacksmithing. The life of this community is one sustained by God’s grace in prayer and work. And it is a lot of work. All work at Regina Laudis is ordered towards the common good, to the glory of God.

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“Psalm 27” by Janice Little (image courtesy Greg Little).

After visiting Regina Laudis in June, I returned to my own community with a renewed sense of the connection between work and life.

God breathes everything into existence. All life is sourced in and aimed towards God. In our life together – whether that’s a group of friends, a family, a church body, an intentional or religious community – we are invited to participate in God’s life and to nurture and sustain life. This takes work. Sometimes this work is boring. Sometimes this work is fun. Sometimes it carries a sense of importance, and other times it is underwhelmingly mundane. Sometimes this work is difficult.

Part of this work involves our own inward discoveries and confrontations with pain and fear. The work of interior exploration, noticing, confession, and truth-telling opens up a new terrain for possibilities of love and compassion in a community’s life. The more our common life matures, the greater our capacity to accompany one another in this inner work. Our life is filled with mess ups and forgiveness, discovering our compulsions and strengthening friendships in the journey of receiving God’s grace towards freedom.

Another significant part of this work involves our daily, practical, tiny offerings of doing the dishes, naming hidden gifts, cooking with care, listening to one another, teaching children, bearing one another’s faults with compassion and a smile, changing air conditioning filters and light bulbs, committing to being present, confessing and forgiving wrongs, and placing flowers in a vase on the table.

I wonder what might happen if we explore the mysterious connection between work and life?  What if we work inside of community life as the holy nurturing that makes room for the gift of life to bloom and grow?

Sundays at 4 p.m., all of us who live at Corner House gather to talk about our week’s upcoming schedule and to-do chores. Janice organizes the refrigerator and refreshes our memory of leftovers. Miss T thoroughly washes the dishes and cleans up our coffee corner. Tony changes the sheets in our Christ Room and sweeps all the floors. Lee selects just the right album to play on the record player to lighten and enliven the mood and then cleans the washer or tidies the porch. We work together. We work for one another and for the unknown guests that will present Jesus’ presence to us in the upcoming week.

This pattern of coming together on Sunday afternoons is a place of vitality for our home. We remind one another, through this shared work, of the life that is given to us by God in our common life. We tend to that life, nurture it, and make room for it to grow. We open channels for that life to flow freely and fully.

And Sundays aren’t the only time for this. Bonnie starts our house grocery list the moment the previous week’s grocery run ends. All week long, Bonnie adds to the list when she sees something running low. Tony’s garden-tending is slow, deliberate and filled with wonder. In the last couple weeks, he emerges from the garden everyday with nine cucumbers or seven okra or 15 sun-gold tomatoes. Janice uses her eye for beauty to rearrange art on the walls and systematize our shelves and closets. All of this work is concrete, small, untethered to money, and terribly ordinary. All of this work attends to the gift of life given us by God. All of this work swims in the loving, active presence of God.

We are learning to work to sustain the life given to us by a loving God. We are learning to resist the temptation to say “no” to this work for other tasks we deem more “relational” or ”spiritual,” for God is present in all the mundane acts of care that make room for life to flourish more and more. In prayer, we are reminded of the source and goal of all life as we worship the One who breathes life into everything that exists. May we receive God’s grace to commit to the holy work of tending to life.

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Greg Little

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Greg Little is a husband to Janice and father to JoyAna, and he has a home at Corner House in Durham, North Carolina. He has learned from various schools, including several Christian communities seeking justice and peace (a Catholic Worker home inspired by St. Francis, Durham’s Friendship House, and Haiti’s Wings of Hope), and is committed to a life ordered by daily communal prayer and littleness. He works at Reality Ministries, a place proclaiming that we all belong to God in Jesus through fostering friendship among people with and without developmental disabilities. Greg and Sister Julia recently met in the wonder of an interfaith dialogue about monasticism and the contemplative life at Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

Messy spiritual allergies

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com
http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1380930

Much like a food allergy, I’ve found that something just isn’t sitting right with me and the Church. My experiences in spirituality, what I find inspiring and comforting, just don’t make sense with Mass anymore.

Imagine writing that on a religious blog. Eesh.

So what do you do with a troubling spirit or food allergy? You find the source! You put it all to the side and slowly, ever so slowly, you sip each aspect. Let it sit and ruminate in you. See how you react—see if your soul sings! Or flops.

My process is both arduous and lazy. I’m finding I lack discipline when I don’t fear the wrath of God so much. But I am approaching my delicate questions with sincerity and a quiet determination to resolve them.

Do I know Jesus as a person? And Mary? The Bible tells me certain things, but what were they really like? Ohhh, I love Catholicism and its myriad of prayer styles. This will help me.

Are you still Catholic? Yes. I may not be making sense of my devotion at the moment, but I am aware of other religions and can at this point absolutely say “Yes.” I am trying to be Catholic.

What do you miss of Mass? The community, the ritual, and perhaps the discipline (although I’m not a fan of being judged for not partaking in certain disciplines). This all or nothing approach really wounds people.

Why are my most spiritual experiences considered sins? Ah yes, there it is. There’s the allergy—my Church wound. I haven’t balanced this one out yet. Still working on it. It’s probably the hardest to reconcile.

This is a long, long process. But honestly, it feels right. I can’t explain it. I get little nudges every now and then to continue on it, so I am, and it’s healing. I’m healing my Church wound. This is hard for me to write about, so I hope it’s received in understanding. But I happen to think that with so many people my age choosing to not tie down to a religion … this might mean something. So, I thought I would share.

Emily Crook, a good friend of Sister Julia’s, says the only appropriate place to put this mess is Messy Jesus Business! It’s not possible to contain all the holiness that goes on in this place, but with this blog, it’s at least easy to read and enjoyable to view. We hope you like it!