One of the staples of the Lilly Fellows Postdoctoral program is the weekly colloquium. Every Monday the fellows, their mentors, and a few others, including Mark Schwehn, Dorothy Bass, and the LFP staff, gather in the living room of Linwood House to discuss for an hour and a half some readings that pertain to some aspect of life as a Christian teacher-scholar. We each take turns at leading the discussion. This Monday we read selections from Kathleen Norris’ Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace and it was my turn to lead.
Kathleen Norris has a great deal to say about Benedictine spirituality and monastic life, not to mention how a Baby-boomer-age lapsed Christian writer came back to Church by exploring monastic prayer life. Norris is a seeker and she writes to others like herself – people searching for salvation (of sorts). I first encountered Cloister Walk shortly after it was published in 1997 and this seeker element resonated with me then as it does now. That Norris doubts and struggles with her faith is compelling and it is comforting to know that smart, seemingly regular people have doubts too. This is a subject she revisits (somewhat) in Amazing Grace as she explores the religious language that was so off-putting as she made her way back to Church.
While all this is interesting and not to mention a delightful little journey that Norris invites her readers to take with her, our conversation Monday afternoon delved into different territory; we focused much of our discussion on time, work-life balance, and hospitality. I think just about anyone engaged in the business of writing, scholarship, and teaching wonders where the time goes. Each day we promise ourselves to write x number of pages and to grade everything that needs grading. Then there are the constant struggles to be available to students, our colleagues, and our families. (At this point in the discussion, I am wont to say something inane like, “That’s why God made coffee.” Helpful.) We are continually fighting the urge to hide away for one reason or another and with that we fight isolation – whether in our work or in our community.
One thing Norris tells us is that “hospitality has a way of breaking through the defenses of insularity.” (Amazing Grace, 267) Hospitality is one of the fundamental components of Benedictine life (there are always guests at the abbey.) Our reading for Monday showed us that there is a grace to being welcomed, but there is also a grace to being the one who welcomes. Norris talks about how she was refreshed one hurried, distracted day by the chance encounter with an old friend, which forced her to stop and be hospitable to another. By extending hospitality, she found she benefited. This inspired my question to my fellow members of the colloquium. How are we hospitable, inviting, welcoming to those in our everyday life: our families and friends, our students, our colleagues, those we encounter around the copy machine, lunch table, behind the circulation desk, at the store, dry cleaner, etc.? Do we see beyond our books, papers, and ideas to live in the world of where bills need to be paid, laundry needs to be done, dishes need cleaning, and meals need to be cooked? Can we make the time? (Rest assured, I am no saint. As I prepared for our discussion, my house was a mess, my laundry piled up, and I ignored my husband and doggies to get my work done.)
Universities and colleges are full of smart and bright people engaged in meaningful projects about all aspects of our lives, whether they are political, social, cultural, or scientific. I imagine everyone is trying to figure out how they can best use their time. Norris offers one option, one model for us to consider.