Wednesday, 16 March 2016

"They will be true monks, living by the work of their hands"

The title of this post might be a bit of a misnomer—as Dominicans, we follow the Rule of St. Augustine, not the Rule of St. Benedict. But there are some basic commonalities in the monastic family (and, frankly, the human family), regardless of rule, and one of those is the necessity of work.

As contemplatives, our primary work is, of course, offering a continuous sacrifice of praise to God through the liturgy. Still, just as Jesus did not spend his entire earthly life in the Temple or synagogue, but "devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter's bench" (Laborem Exercens Ch.6) , we also work with our hands to cook, clean and take care of the needs of the monastery and our beloved guests. Some sisters sew and mend our habits; others manage the finances or coordinate the liturgy; others take care of the archives, work in the print shop or manage the library. In the summer, we also plant, weed and harvest fruits and vegetables for the table. Each person is called upon to serve according to the talents and abilities God has bestowed upon her through both nature and training.

We are privileged enough, though, to have the time and resources to engage in work over and above the basic household chores and necessities of life. Thus, some sisters make handmade candles and natural soaps; others bake delectable treats to-order; others write sacred icons, or write books in various genres.

Since February, one of our resident craftswomen, Sr. Mary Magdalene, has been so good as to welcome the novitiate into the workshop to teach us two of her (many) specialties: pottery and wood carving. Sr. Elizabeth Marie is learning the way of the chisel and gouge; meanwhile, yours truly is attempting to become more centered (pun absolutely intended) on the pottery wheel.

Sr. Elizabeth Marie can speak to her carving experience at a later date, but for me, I know that it's interesting to learn the ways of working with a material that I have absolutely no familiarity with. Turns out that trying to knead (or "wedge") the clay like bread is the absolutely best way to work air bubbles into the lump, rather than out of it like you're supposed to. Not a few times I've scrambled hurriedly up the hill from workshop to Vespers, only to realize that I used too much water when spinning and am now covered in clay freckles.

And the experience of trying to wrestle four pound lumps of clay into (hopefully) vertical creations has also led me to interpret Isaiah 45:9 in a way that the original author probably did not intend:

            "Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' 
Does your work say, 'The potter has no hands'?"

In my case: yes, all the time!

So, here are some pictures from our work in the workshop—including a special appearance from a certain furry non-artisan.

Lotti being...well, Lotti.