Saturday, January 03, 2009

My Minivan is My Cell

Late last night, it became clear that Bantam9 was really sick. He had been coughing a lot, off and on, for nearly a month, but it had just become nonstop, and now he had a fever of 101. Plus he was coughing up copious amounts of phlegm...and a quick Googling of those symptoms revealed that he could very well be getting pneumonia.

So today, instead of spending the nice domestic day I had planned, cleaning, cooking ahead and preparing the guest room for my parents, sister-in-law and two nieces who were arriving this afternoon...

I spent from 10:30 to 4:00 with Bantam9 at the walk-in clinic (with the exception of a short period when, facing a 2-hour wait, we went home for 45 minutes, only to be called and told that our names were coming up sooner than expected).

Yes, our names, because I had an urgent reason to see the doctor myself, which I had put off because of holiday busyness and doctor's office closures.

Long story short, Bantam9's chest x-ray does indeed look suspicious for early pneumonia, and I was given several new things to schedule further doctor's visits for, including a reminder to get that baseline mammogram that I still haven't had. And you can just guess how excited I must be at the thought of spending more time in a waiting room.

So while I was waiting, I was reading Kathleen Norris' new book, Acedia and Me. Acedia is a very old name for a modern condition--something between depression and restlessness, I would nutshell it.

I was struck by this passage:

A desert monk troubled by "bad thoughts" knew he was not alone. He was expected to seek an elder and ask for "a word." But the elder consulted was likely to be reluctant, and even suspicious. If he determined that he was being consulted for the wrong reasons, as a diversion from tedium or an excuse to socialize, he would admonish the seeker to stop looking outward for what he needed to look for within. Lengthy confession or conversation was deemed unnecessary, and the elder's good word often consisted of Zen-like instruction: "Go, sit in your cell," said Abba Moses, "and your cell will teach you everything."


My heart leaped at this. Oh, to go and sit alone in my cell! (It's a monk's bedroom, essentially). To embrace its peace and quiet! Sign me up!

Later, on my way to the pharmacy, with a house full of relatives and my planned preparations undone, this thought returned to me. And a second thought flashed just as quickly through my mind: This minivan is your cell.

No doubt I was affected by an article I just read yesterday (HT Jen at Conversion Diary) called "The Domestic Monastary." Here is a relevant portion:

Moreover, the demands of young children also provide her with what St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called the "monastic bell". All monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in writing his rules for monasticism, told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the particular activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it's time for that task and time isn't your time, it's God's time. For him, the monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God's agenda.

Hence, a mother raising children, perhaps in a more privileged way even than a professional contemplative, is forced, almost against her will, to constantly stretch her heart. For years, while raising children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in second place, and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out and demanding something. She hears the monastic bell many times during the day and she has to drop things in mid-sentence and respond, not because she wants to, but because it's time for that activity and time isn't her time, but God's time.

There is a lot more I'd like to say about that, but it's way late and we have church in the morning and then second Christmas tomorrow afternoon. Then another bloggable treat is expected around dinner time, barring illness or the monastic bell of some other emergency! And my brother is joining our party, and sometime tomorrow, I hope to upload pictures so I can write the promised "Speaking of Movies" follow-up I so rashly promised for today.

So I must adieu...but think on it, all: "Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything."

What is your cell?

2 comments:

Linds said...

I hope Bantam 9 is on the road to recovery, Jeanne, and that you are ok too. My cell? Well, in Switzerland, that is easy to say. There is a special place I know and love and spend many cell like hours there. Here, it is probably my car. God and I do a lot of talking there.

tonia said...

I read that article too...just fabulous. I need to soak in that idea about the bells and time not being my own...and contemplate my cell.

I hope you are all feeling better.