A Domestic Matter

Today I am hoping to get some painting done in the monastery and I have been amused, and occasionally puzzled, by the reactions of online friends. There have been imaginative suggestions about how Bro Duncan might aid the process;  witty suggestions for colours with a liturgical twist; and the inevitable, ‘I suppose you’re painting it all magnolia’ (no, not a drop of magnolia in sight) and ‘those are pricey paints you’re using’ (not really: good paint covers better, faster and lasts longer). What has genuinely puzzled me are the people who think that nuns never have to bother with decorating, or somehow manage it all by magic (I wish we could).

Which brings me to my thought for the day. Our prayerline and, indeed, our email inbox, are always full of requests for prayer. We regularly receive requests from people wishing to discuss their faith or lack of it, or some other perceived difficulty in their lives. In other words, a lot of people engage with us in times of distress and anxiety. Many we never hear from again; others say thank you for what they have received. Not one of them has ever sneered at us for ‘not living in the real world’ (a charge frequently heard from those who disagree with the opinions we express) or questioned our ability to understand the lives they lead. Clearly, when we are needed, we are ordinary people. But mention something as everyday as decorating, and some people are evidently baffled. It doesn’t fit their idea of what we should be.

What I say here of nuns obviously applies to everyone, and that is my real point. Do we box other people in with our view of them? Do we effectively demand that they conform to our ideas about what they should be and do? The parents who want their child to be a doctor or a lawyer, when the child actually wants to be a dancer or a musician; the husbands and wives who want their partners to be what they cannot; the expectations we have of others which can never be met. Sometimes we use this kind of thinking to excuse ourselves from responsibility: ‘he wasn’t what he should be, so why should I . . .’ It is easy to think about these things in the abstract, but we need to start with the reality nearer home. Today is CAFOD’s family fast day, when we are asked to fast in order that others may eat. I daresay many of us think of the hungry in terms of stereotypes: the starving in Africa or Asia, for example. Perhaps today we could take a fresh look at the people we pass in the street. There are many in Britain today who go hungry and whom we need to help, as well as those in other parts of the world. Hunger is a domestic matter, not something we can pretend only happens elsewhere.

How will you help today?

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15 thoughts on “A Domestic Matter”

  1. An excellent and perceptive blog sister.We have much too much in the West……while others starve. I was horrified to hear that the amount of money needed to bail out Greece in the EU could have provided clean water for those parts of the globe that do not have it; stand pipes are relatively quick and easy and cheap to set up.
    Hope the decorating goes well…..how about “painting with a prayer” brother Lawrence style ! Blessings!

  2. Working in a Convent, I see that stereotyping very frequently. People have very set ideas as to what or who nuns or Sisters should be – even folks who have regular interaction with Religious still seem to have certain expectations. The amount of times I have had to remind people that my Sisters are just as human as they themselves are…

    I think when it comes to the hungry, there’s a great danger in thinking of “the deserving poor” and the “un-deserving poor” – and categorising all the hungry in the global south as belonging to the first group, and all the hungry in countries like the UK as belonging to the second. That idea that “well, we have enough food, so it must be their own fault if they don’t…” When of course, it’s nowhere near as simple as that. (is it ever simple?) And even if someone is suffering because of a self made situation… is that any reason not to help? Jesus never asked those seeking miracles from Him if their problems were “self inflicted”…

    Glad to hear it’s not Magnolia! 😉

    • I think you make a good point. In relation to God, we are all undeserving poor on whom he lavishes his mercy; but I think we have difficulty getting our heads round the idea that many of those who suffer in our society are not actually responsible for their own suffering, and even if they were, it would be questionable whether we should refuse them help.

      • I wonder if, when it comes to our own society, it might be something to do with most people (though I don’t want to stereotype!) having an inbuilt “life is hard” feeling? As much as to say that we all want to think that life is at least a little difficult for us, individually, and that then gets us “off the hook” of helping those worse off? I know I’m guilty of playing the “I live under the bread line therefore I can’t give more than I already do” card when I get phone calls from charities asking for more money. If I tell myself that I only get by with a struggle, then it makes me feel better about not helping others who are worse off than me. But realistically, someone could have more money coming in than I do, and actually be far worse off, due to the effects of the financial downturn and the housing crash. Or even far worse off because they’ve never been taught to cook… (I was horrified on reading an article once, about urban poverty, where a family described their outgoings, and it became apparent that due to no one in the family having knowledge of cooking, they were spending about three times as much on prepared food, and resultingly being under nourished, when for the same amount of money, a family who can cook well and shop frugally could live very healthily.)
        And given the amount of times Jesus said that he came to heal sinners, I’m inclined to think we have no leg to stand on if we say that we will not help people whose situations appear to us to be self inflicted. No matter how difficult that truth might be to swallow – we are to love others as He loves us.
        Thank you for such a thought provoking discussion.

  3. Physically, there is little I can do, once I’ve fed my four paws companions and myself there’s not much left for anything else except show my solidarity to those who hunger. However, our continent is one that suffers most of obesity among its inhabitants and I have to admit I am guilty of that too… I simply eat more than I actually need. Gandhi often referred to the fact that there is enough food for everyone but it is not equally distributed and that it is because there is excess in our part of the world that others have to do without.
    Therefore there is no excuse in the west for hunger. The fact there are needy people in our towns and cities of the west, not always, but often is due to the welfare system because it leads some people to do nothing for themselves, or take the line of least resistance if and when they can. Certainly Britain is far too generous with their benefit system and leads to a lot of “sponging” off the state. Yet in spite of such system there are those we can describe as “needy” which leads one to think are these conditions not self-inflicted, due to ignorance, perhaps? In that case is it not better rather than feed the “hungry” to educate, instruct and make aware they have a duty to help themselves and not expect it to be handed down like manna from heaven?

    • Thank you. It’s a complex question, but there are people going hungry in the west through no fault of their own. e.g. lose your job because of the downturn in the economy, house foreclosed on, homeless so no possibility of work, problems with registering for benefits, downward spiral. As to the epidemic of obesity in the west, most of us eat more than we need and use more than our fair share of the earth’s resources, don’t we?

  4. Ah yes, the amazement that we can do or know anything practical or domestic. Only yesterday the man who serviced our fire extinguishers was taken aback when I checked them after he had finished and found two with the pressure guage still way lower than it should be – he tried to tell me that it’s okay in Italy! (He’s the one who wouldn’t sell me a fire blanket for the kitchen, because they are not OBLIGATORY. Hello? I’d like to have one for safety in the kitchen, okay?) On another occasion, in Ireland, as I stood looking dismally at a flat wheel, a passer-by who knew me commented that he didn’t think a nun would get a puncture! I wish.
    But I suppose I am guilty of stereotyping too. That’s what I need to look out for.

  5. …….so what’s wrong with magnolia?

    Isn’t it wonderful when people far exceed our expectations, leap right out of the box we have put them in? Just this week I sat on a bench next to a very old man feeding pigeons in the city. As we started to talk, it became clear he was an Orthodox Priest and asked me to light a candle for him at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Another very well groomed woman told me that ‘of course (she) had never washed her own hair’. As my mind raced on, she explained that all her life she had someone else do this for her. It’s not the extraordinary that surprises us. We expect that to surprise. It’s the sheer weird, wonderful, ordinary, dailiness of things that really surprise. You can’t see things ‘original, counter, spare, strange’ unless you carry a notion of the narrow, straight.

    • Nothing wrong with magnolia, we have just preferred another colour. Seriously, you are quite right about the extraordinariness of the ordinary. Monastic life opens one’s eye to the wonder of the ordinary. I’m pleased to see our oblates have the same experience.

  6. There is so much expectation of on many of us that it becomes a ball and chain around our ankles.

    Having lived with many unfulfilled expectations (from others) I’m now content to live for the day, resting in God and only seeking to live up to his expectations.

    But, it’s taken a lifetime to reach this stage. Only when retirement gave me the freedom to explore did that stage start to arrive. This doesn’t mean that I’m doing nothing, just that I’m doing what I believe that I’m being called to do. At the moment it’s lay ministry, running church accounts and from yesterday, Secretary of a committee formed to explore the way forward in Mission and Outreach within our Benefice of five churches as we prepare to link with another four.

    God and the Army gave me a gift for HR & Admin, and those are the gifts now being utilised, not for for secular work, but for God’s mission in a tiny way, within all of the great work that goes on for him in the many churches, religious orders and foundations throughout the world.

    In a couple of weeks there is to be a meeting to explore a further development of the Lay Ministry that I have bee privileged to share with others in our Benefice. Again, God is acting positively in so many ways evident to me, that I can only say “Thank God” often. There are no expectations, only hope that if the Church has identified other ways to utilise me to serve, that I will be enabled and empowered to fulfil any role proposed. That’s about my trust in God and in those who lead our Parish and the wider church.

    • Indeed. But I wonder, is it the fact that you are now older and wiser and have the freedom that being retired confers that allows you to take such a positive view? When you were serving in the army, your military duties must naturally have been your main focus. I think we don’t always appreciate the gift that older people confer on us by their freedom.

      • Thank you both for this. Earlier this year I had my 60th birthday and these posts point to the new freedom I am finding. My experience is of a truly blessed time, though for many I know it a time of immense struggle.

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