A lovely woman is with us for a month making an observership, so she’s seated in choir in the front row along with our two postulants. Over the course of the last two months it has been a wonderful experience for all of us to pass on our house and monastic traditions to these women. Handing down the traditions and customs of a community has always been deeply embedded in monastic life.
The skills and crafts of older monks and nuns are inherited by the new ones: everything from weaving to gardening tips to woodworking. A manual isn’t given to a newcomer to learn these; instead time is spent slowly learning the craft, the tools, the skills, and working hand in hand to gain more expertise, and to how to pray as one works.
But even more so, this touches all of Benedictine life, not just work. The whole of monastic life is a learning of practices and instruction for living the life of the Gospel. Benedictines are in “the school of the Lord’s service” (Prologue 45)—a lifelong education! Even the hymns and chants we chant in choir at the Divine Office were handed down: we’ve been singing some of them for over 1,500 years! And the Sayings of the Desert Fathers have been passed down from one generation to another. Why? Because what at core is transmitted from one nun to another, whether work or chants or counsel, is actually an experience of God. And now, I too, though a young monastic, have the opportunity to hand down to these newcomers what I have been given. We do this, not because we want everyone to be a masterful singer, or woodworker, or ascetic, but for one simple reason—to give glory to God.