- Posted by Fr. Jeremiah Shryock, CFR
- On February 18, 2018
- 2 Comments
Many years ago, I spent a week of retreat at Our Lady of Genesee Abbey in upstate New York. On the last day, I returned from the Monastery Church after Mass to the retreat house and decided to spend a few minutes in the chapel before lunch. As I entered the chapel and knelt in the back, I realized there was a woman sitting about five feet away from the tabernacle. As our eyes met, we exchanged a friendly smile. A few seconds later, I looked up again because I noticed something that appeared strange to me. She was knitting a sweater.
A few minutes later, I left the chapel and went to the dining room for lunch. Rather than enjoying the food I was eating, I spent the entire time convincing myself not only how strange it was that this woman was knitting in the chapel, but that it was wrong. A chapel, I told myself, is a place of prayer and what this woman was doing was clearly not prayer.
On one level I was right. A chapel, especially one that reserved the Blessed Sacrament, is a place set apart. It is not a dining hall, a workroom or a place to socialize. When we enter a chapel we should remember God’s words to Moses: “remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Even though my theology was correct, I was still missing an essential component.
I went outside to admire the beautiful grounds of the monastery. There, in the midst of deep silence, I heard these words: “If you loved me the way that woman does, you would not hesitate to knit in front of me.”
In my mind, I had a pre-conceived idea about what prayer is and what it should look like. Prayer, I believed, was essentially an activity. One was saying prayers, reading a spiritual book, or meditating upon some spiritual truth. What all of these activities had in common is that they were all “other worldly.” Our daily life, and our thoughts and feelings, I believed, were not important to God.
In my own zeal for holiness, I had succumbed to the most common temptation: the belief that a spiritual life was somehow separate from ordinary life. For this woman, there was no dichotomy between them. They were one and the same.
So often we assume that our ordinary life is somehow not good enough or not “spiritual” enough for God. With this attitude we often end up ignoring our own life, in search of some other that contains all the necessary ingredients we believe will make us holy. I have often met lay people who attempt to live like religious, much to the detriment of their families and their own vocations. In a similar fashion, I have met priests and religious who, hoping to live a more “ordinary” life, attempt to live like lay people, thereby missing the grace being given to them in their own vocation.
The woman whom I saw knitting in the chapel revealed to me a deeper dimension of prayer I had not yet realized. Prayer was not just an activity directed towards “another world,” but was also a way of being before God, in this world; with the life he has given me. As she sat before the Lord knitting her sweater, I imagined she spoke to him about everything in her heart. Since she was not afraid to bringknitting into her prayer, I assumed she talked to God regularly, when she was driving, cooking, exercising, working, etc.
Despite our best efforts to compartmentalize our life into various categories, there is no such thing as a spiritual life, a home life, a work life, etc. There is just this one life to live. When we can view it as a whole, an ordinary task like knitting can become a means to union with God. With this mindset, there are really no distractions, just a thousand opportunities to live in the presence of God.
Fr. Jeremiah Shryock, CFR