Posted by: Sue Spencer | June 5, 2008

At the monastery

On Tuesday I came to Boston, taking a bus up from the Cape to South Station, and from there the Red Line to Harvard Square. From there it was only a short walk to the SSJE Monastery along the Charles, where I had booked a few days’ retreat. I’m ensconced in the guest house on the third floor, where it’s high enough both to afford a good view of the river, and also to provide a bit of distance from the cars whooshing along Memorial Drive.

It’s good to be back at the monastery, worshiping with the brothers. It’s been startling for me to realize that, in some ways at least, I still feel more at home there than I ever did at CHS. No doubt much of that is due to what’s been called “the Grubb theory of oscillation,” a term introduced to me at an Alban Institute workshop some years ago. According to this theory, human beings have needs both for work and for rest, for productivity and for nurturance, and that they need to oscillate between the two. For clergy, it can be summarized in the question “who ministers to the minister?”

When I worshipped at CHS, it was part of our work, and there was a strong emphasis on learning to “do it right.” At the monastery, in contrast, I’m there to be fed, and mistakes are easily forgiven, if they’re noticed at all. At CHS I always felt somewhat hyper-vigilant during the offices, while at SSJE I can let myself sink into them, and feel the love of God sink into me.

This is a good reminder to myself: It will be important, once I’m back working in the parish, to find another place like the monastery. I’ll need a place where I can worship without having it be my work, where I can be fed so that I can feed others – indeed, where I can be a layperson. Cambridge will be too far away for me to worship at SSJE on a regular basis, but I’m sure another place will present itself, just as it always has.

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