WORDS FROM W.W. March 18, 2010

I’m two days removed from spending about 27 hours at a retreat center run by a group of Benedictine nuns. Our group of pastors that have been meeting monthly for about a year and a half went there to “draw to the side” and examine our spiritual lives.
No internet. No Facebook. No cell phones…most of the time.
Carol told me to leave my pajamas that have penguins all over them at home. She didn’t think that would be very flattering to wear penguin pajamas around a group of nuns. (Of course, why would the sisters be seeing me after I had put them on in preparation for night-night time? I suppose there could have been a fire alarm in the middle of the night and there I would have been sporting black-and-white penguins in the midst of stern looks!)
The Benedictine sisters gather for prayer three times a day- 7:45 in the morning, noon, and 5:00. During the course of a month they pray through the whole book of Psalms in their gatherings. We were welcomed into their gathering like children attempting their first steps being greeted and encouraged by glee-filled parents. We journeyed with them, seven American Baptist clergy with twenty or so nuns, as different psalms and prayers were echoed.
I felt a little bit like a technologically-challenged older adult in front of a new computer.
• “Where’s the On-Off switch?”
• “What are all these pictures and F5’s and how do I turn the volume down?”
• “I can actually pay a bill through my computer. How do they know it’s me if I don’t show them a picture ID?”
In the prayer gatherings, however, the sisters guided us through the experience with encouraging smiles and quiet directions.
What I was struck by was the rhythm of their reading scripture. They sit on two sides of the chapel facing one another. The reading would be divided between the two groups. As one group finished a verse there would be a brief pause before the other group began. The pause revealed our “”rookie status”. Our group of pastors would be the ones who would jump into the words one syllable too soon or a word too late. The sisters were as synchronized as an Olympic rowing crew.
We got better. They were already there.
What occurred to me as I reflected on that later was that the rhythm of the reading, the symmetry of the sisters, was a verbal expression of their living in community with one another. They have journeyed together not just for an hour on a Sunday morning each week, but every day all day. The richness of their lives is planted in their spiritual relationships with God, and as a result they look for something of Jesus in each of their companion’s lives.
I find that it is hard to find that rhythm in churches today. It may be one reason why the house church movement has blossomed. People are looking for the rhythm of community, but too often find the chaos of an institution. Not that the Benedictine sisters don’t have their share of problems. One of them at age 40 is battling cancer. One of them had taken a leave from the monastery to just be away for a while. They have many personality clashes because they are together for much. I guess you could say “Their dinner dishes get dirty just like ours.”
But they are seriously serious about working out the problems through personal prayer, community prayer, and the shared wisdom of the community.
In churches today, disagreements too often result in someone heading for the exit. Perhaps community is hard to experience because my agenda is seen as being more important than yours…and vice-versa. As long as you have to do all the work I’ll be fine…or vice-versa!
Rhythm. We joke that we are a church of rhythm-impaired people. Musically we extend a lot of grace to one another. The rhythm of community needs a dose of grace as well, but before grace can be offered there must be a commitment to pursue that rhythm.

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  1. Trina Says:

    Bill –
    This is a beautiful reflection of your experience. I’m currently reading Leighton Ford’s book, The Attentive Life. He expresses some of the same things–the importance of community, of prayer, of personal time alone with God, of rhythm. Thanks for sharing this.

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