There was a time where I romanticized joining a monastery, if only for the discipline provided from the Liturgy of the Hours and the attendant order imposed by communal living. At St. John’s University, where I went as an undergrad, monks and priests gather each day at 7am for morning prayer, once again at noonday, and vespers at 7pm. There is also a daily mass at 5pm, but not everyone is expected to be in attendance for that. Even though I have always been and still remain woefully ignorant about religious matters, I felt that if someone were forcing me to do something, I could impose order on my life from the outside. Then, I hoped, time would be a gift, not viewed with a sense of something lost, something slipping ineffably away. When I broached the topic of entering a monastery with a priest who is also a monk at St. John’s, I talked about my lack of discipline in getting up to greet the day, and he said, of course, he would pray for my ability to discern my vocation more clearly, but he also mentioned the idea of spiritual calluses. I felt like Maria in The Sound of Music, sensing that I would be rushing off to morning prayer begrudgingly, starting my day not with prayerfulness, but with a chip on my shoulder.

While I was at St. John’s, this same monk was deliberating carefully whether he should invest in a CD player. He was always very careful when making any sort of material decisions as if he were afraid of polluting himself with too much worldliness. There always has been, and remains, a sense of deliberateness to the lives of the monks and priests at my former school. Kathleen Norris, who wrote the very profound, “The Cloister Walk,” about her experiences as a lay person at St. John’s, but someone who committed herself to living out a monastic life as a married woman, said it best: “Benedictines often remind me of poets, who while they sometimes speak of the art of poetry in exalted terms also know that little things count, that in fact there are no things so ‘little’ as to be without significance in the making of a poem. Monastic life also requires paying attention to the nitty-gritty.”

In essence, a monastic life can be a poetic life. I crave a poetic life for myself, but realize it requires daily discipline and hard work. There’s the old adage, “Nothing worth doing comes easily.” I guess I need to just develop a few more spiritual calluses, the ability to forge ahead and find peace and grace in my days, even when it involves a bit more work on my part.