I just read this over at Renee's BLOG and after a long morning of cleaning and baby rustling, it hit is a little long, but absolutely worth the read...


Carlo Carretto, one of the leading spiritual writers of the past half-

century, lived for more than a dozen years as a hermit in the Sahara

Desert. Alone, with only the Blessed Sacrament for company, milking

a goat for his food, and translating the Bible into the local Bedouin

language, he prayed for long hours by himself.

Returning to Italy one day to visit his mother, he came to a

startling realization. His mother, who for more than 30 years of her

life had been so busy raising a family that she scarcely ever had a

private minute for herself, was more contemplative than he was.

Carretto, though, was careful to draw the right lesson from this.

What this taught was not that there was anything wrong with what he

had been doing in living as a hermit. The lesson was rather that

there was something wonderfully right about what his mother had been

doing all these years as she lived the interrupted life amid the

noise and incessant demands of small children. 

He had been in a monastery, but so had she.

What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a place set apart

for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a

place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that

time is not ours, but God’s.

Our home and our duties can, just like a monastery, teach us those

things. John of the Cross once described the inner essence of

monasticism in these words: “But they, O my God and my life, will

see and experience Your mild touch, who withdraw from the world and

become mild, bringing the mild into harmony with the mild, thus

enabling themselves to experience and enjoy You.” What John

suggests here is that two elements make for a monastery – withdrawal

from the world and bringing oneself into harmony with the mild.

Although he was speaking about the vocation of monastic monks and

nuns, who physically withdraw from the world, the principle is

equally valid for those of us who cannot go off to monasteries and

become monks and nuns. Certain vocations offer the same kind of

opportunity for contemplation. They, too, provide a desert for


For example, the mother who stays home with small children

experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is

definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from

the centers of power and social importance. And she feels it.

Moreover, her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of

the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with

the mild that is, to attune herself to the powerless rather

than to the powerful.

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, 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 rearing 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 rearing

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.

The rest of us experience the monastic bell each morning when our

alarm clock rings and we get out of bed and ready ourselves for the

day, not because we want to, but because it’s time.

The principles of monasticism are time-tested, saint-sanctioned, and

altogether trustworthy. But there are different kinds of

monasteries, different ways of putting ourselves into harmony with

the mild, and different kinds of monastic bells. Response to duty

can be monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic bell, and

working without status and power can constitute a withdrawal into a

monastery where God can meet us. The domestic can be the monastic.

By Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, in the Seattle, WA, The Catholic Northwest Progress, Jan. 18, 2001.


stacey said…
wow, very powerful.

Becky Jane said…
Thanks for sharing such a thought provoking article...Although I've spent a lot of my life surrounded by 11 children, there are those monastery moments...
Jenn Erickson said…
Amy, what a brilliant, classy, and stylish way to repurpose an old chair!

I saw you listed over at Babble and just had to come by! So glad I did!

New follower,
Jenn/Rook No. 17
princessbetht said…
What an interesting take on life as a stay-at-home parent. With familial knowledge of monastic life (an uncle who is a monk and much time spent visiting his chosen home over my years,) this correlation is very interesting to me. Thank you for posting!