My husband Joel is in deacon formation and we travel once a month to Conception Abbey and Seminary, a Benedictine monastery, for theological training. Through our visits, Iâ€™veÂ developedÂ a greatÂ admirationÂ for the Benedictine way of life — ordered, simple, and purposeful. Thereâ€™s a time to work, a time to pray, a time to rest, and a time to play. During our visits, I find myself, almost spectator like, standing on the sidelines and watching monastic life unfold before me. Iâ€™ve bent the ears of a few monks, no doubt exhausting them with what seems to be a never-ending series of questions, which essentially boil down to this: How, if itâ€™s even possible, can I allow the domestic to become more monastic?
All monasteries have a bell and when that bell rings, the monks are to drop what they are doing and go to wherever the bell is summoning them — prayer, meals, work, study, sleep. The monastic bell helps to strengthen the monksâ€™ discipline, pushing them beyond their own agenda to God’s.
Speaking of bells, the phrase â€œsmells and bellsâ€ is a colloquial expression used within the Church that refers to various sensory experiences occurring during the liturgy — incense and bells, oil and water, bread and wine.Â The domestic church, at least my domestic church, has its share of smells and bells, too.Â
- The barking, slobbering black lab who has gone into constant guard-dog mode ever since our firstborn arrived home from the hospital;
- The eruption of tears from the toddler as a result of the barking dog;
- The constant pleas of the 4-year-old to play games, go to the park, read a book, look at her latest artistic masterpiece â€¦ simply pay attention to her;
- The pitter-patter of toddler feet coming ever closer while Iâ€™m trying to have just one moment to myself â€¦ in the bathroom;
- The full diaper pail with the worn-out seals begging to beÂ relieved of a weekâ€™s worth of â€œcontentsâ€;
- THAT smell in the refrigerator that wonâ€™t go away.
Not quite the same as the Benedictine monastery, but there is a parallel. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, “This moment in time God has carved a place for you.”Â And that place at this time is here within my domestic monastery, this humble abode we call Das Schmidt Haus. It is here where Iâ€™m finally learning that time is not mine, itâ€™s Godâ€™s. When any of these domestic smells or bells cries out for my attention, just like the monastic bell does for the monks, I have to drop whatever else I am doing and attend to it. A constant reminder that my time is not my own, and it belongs to someone else.
During one of my ear-bending inquisitions of one of the monks, he actually suggested I, like many at-home moms, may have this whole monastic thing down better than most monks. Say what? His point was that the domestic bell doesnâ€™t ring at regular intervals by which you could set a watch. It comes in many forms at different times, often unexpected. The domestic â€œmonkâ€ must be ever-vigilant, ready to be summoned to attend to the needs of another at a momentâ€™s notice.
The domestic can be monastic. Sure, it looks nothing like the ordered simplicity of the abbey, but thatâ€™s precisely the point. My call is different. Iâ€™m not meant to be a monk any more than one of them is meant to be a mom. But our vocations are complimentary. I look to the monks for inspiration in the areas of order, simplicity, and prayer. The monks, I have learned, look to us as icons of the Holy Family for inspiration in the areas of sacrifice and community.
Maybe I have precisely what I need to grow in holiness right here after all. Well, gotta run; the domestic bell is ringing. What IS that smell?!