Lindsey Weishar: Lessons in hospitality, vulnerability, from life in a monastery
My Vocation is Love / By Lindsey Weishar
For the past month, I’ve been living in a monastery. A rapid-fire move back to Kansas City left me temporarily in need of a place to stay, as I sought out an apartment.
The monastery belongs to a French-based religious community — The Little Brothers and Sisters of the Lamb. As the community is back in France for the annual gathering of all its fraternities, I’ve been living with other women who, as friends of the community, are house-sitting, making personal retreats, or preparing for a transition to elsewhere.
Living in this space has highlighted for me, not only the beauty of, but my need for, hospitality. Hospitality shares a root with the word hospital, the latter having an original meaning of “hostel, shelter, lodging” (see etymonline.com). That the root hospitalis can mean either a guest or host is apt, especially because in our own lives we are called both to give and receive hospitality.
SIMPLICITY AND VULNERABILITY
On my end, I’ve been so touched by the sisters’ hospitality toward me. Though abroad, they gave an unhesitating “yes” to my staying in their home. And what I’ve found in this space is abundance. I have a cell, a kitchen to cook in, and a chapel to pray in. The furnishings of these spaces are simple — and yet the simplicity makes space to better sense the beauty. Fresh flowers from the garden brighten a bare table, the lovely bowls from which the sisters drink their coffee and tea are stacked in threes on a specific shelf. There is an order to everything. The women I’ve been living with have also shown me hospitality — inviting me to share in their meals and their daily lives.
Lest this sound too idyllic, I must admit to being sorely tempted to listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock” these past couple weeks. Nothing against Simon and Garfunkel, but this anthem of a song speaks to a particular desire I find cropping up in my own life at times — for a hiddenness that differs from rest, one in which I turn away from suffering or difficulty in favor of distraction. This verse says it especially well:
I have my books and my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock, I am an island
In the tiredness that comes with transition, I’ve experienced the desire to harden, to hide, to protect myself from feelings of homesickness, uncertainty, and the smattering of worries that I’d rather ignore.
And yet, in the monastery, I am reminded daily of the vulnerability I am called to. The Community’s motto is “Wounded, I will never cease to love.” This motto is accompanied by the image of a lamb and a knife topped with a cross. It is a reminder of how our Lord allowed himself to be wounded, killed for us. It also reminds me of hospitality. A rock may indeed, as Simon and Garfunkel say, “feel no pain,” but as poet Denise Levertov reminds me in her gorgeous poem, “To Live in the Mercy of God,” it is much more wondrous “To feel vibrate the enraptured / waterfall flinging itself / unabating down and down / to clenched fists of rock.” In this “uninterrupted” giving, we may be able to discern God’s “Vast / flood of mercy / flung on resistance.” There is room to feel joy and pain, and to make room for others in this space.
LESSONS FOR OPENING HEARTS
What I’m learning in the monastery is that when tempted to isolate, to seek out endless distractions so I don’t have to face places of pain, I am called to be both hospitable (the guest and the host) and vulnerable. The Little Sisters and Brothers provide a template for this by their way of life: As a mendicant order, they go out into their neighborhood a couple days a week to beg for a meal. In being vulnerable before their neighbors, they underscore their neighbors’ inherent dignity. They also host meals for young adults and those in their neighborhood.
They remind me that hospitality and vulnerability are key tools for opening our hearts and inviting others to open theirs. Though we live in a nation that prizes individuality and dependence on oneself, poet John Donne reminds me that “No man is an island.” It is when I’m sharing life with others that I am most free.
LINDSEY WEISHAR is a poet, freelance writer, and native of Champaign who has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is executive assistant to the president at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. Write to her at email@example.com.