Better Together

I’m posting twice today for the Feast of St Benedict. I was reading this morning and was reminded of one of my favourite monastic stories. It’s too good not share.

Sr Aquinata Bockmann is a missionary Benedictine Sister and an expert in the Rule of St Benedict. She has told the story below many times in the course of her teaching. I found it in a talk she gave on Wisdom Leadership in the Rule of St Benedict. She begins by explaining that a monastic community is on a journey together, ‘strong and weak’ alike. This common journeying is made explicit on the novice’s profession day. The novice signs a document which contains his commitment to live the monastic life, he places it on the altar and then sings the following:

Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope.

The community repeat this as sign that from this day forward the novice and community are bound together. So they become responsible for each other, to help each other on the way. The abbot is the guarantee that this will really be done. Every person in the community learns to be attentive to the needs of others.

‘As Novices in springtime we went to the potato fields of our farm. We began in the morning at one side, and had to be at the other side in the afternoon. Each one of us had a hoe to weed around the potato plants. As I was not so strong, after some time I was left behind, and thoughts of discouragement crept in: “The monastic life is too heavy for me, I will not make it; I better go.” But then, looking before me, I saw that the Sister from my right side had already weeded some plants in my line. I got new hope and was again together with all. But after some time once more I fell behind. “I am not strong enough for this life”, – the same thoughts! I have to say that all my doubts about my monastic vocation lie on these potato fields … Looking ahead, I discovered, that the Sister from my left side had weeded several plants for me. And again I was in line with them. I do not know how often this happened; in any case we arrived together at the other side.

When we had our jubilee together, we talked about our past experiences. I asked, looking to the surrounding potato fields: “Do you know that you saved my vocation here on these fields?” They answered: “We put always one strong Sister to your left, and another strong one to your right side.” So I had a good occasion to thank them. To me this became a deep symbol for our monastic community life. It is true, that sometimes we want to give up, or we feel left behind, – but in the deepest sense, our Sisters carry us along. And we do the same with all our Sisters. According to this model, the strong ones used their strength to help the weak; and the weak did not flee, because they were supported by the strong ones. The strong and the weak; – the Sisters are not always aware to help out. Here the leader’s task
becomes evident, to help this common journey being realized.’

Have you had a similar ‘potato field’ experience?
Thank God for it.