Hens and Their Role in My Vocation

Yesterday I mentioned that my novitiate had nearly come to an end when I was appointed minion to the monastery poultry-keeper. A small Twitter-storm followed, with people eager to know how hens could have such an impact. To understand, you would have to be a Benedictine novice yourself — preferably one who doesn’t like the cold or feathers — sent to dig trenches in the snow so the wretched darlings could continue to cross the orchard in their accustomed way. But, as the wiser among you will have realised, I am not really concerned with hens (sorry, poultry-lovers), but something rather more challenging: the difference between accepting and embracing vocation.

I use the word ‘vocation’ here to mean anything asked of us by the circumstances of our life. In a monastic context, it has a more precise meaning: that which constitutes our fundamental response to God as expressed through a life lived in common under a Rule and superior. But I think anyone will understand that the demands of being a parent, for example, constitute a vocation. We also have a tendency to see certain types of employment as being a vocation — e.g. teaching, nursing, medicine — which is hard on those whose work attracts less positive accolades — e.g. bankers, lawyers and sewage farm workers. We may have greater difficulty seeing illness or exile or other negative experiences as also being part of our vocation; and that’s where the difference between accepting and embracing really tells.

It can be very hard to accept that which is contrary to everything we hoped or longed for — widowhood, for example, or the death of a child. Everything within us rebels at the loss. Over time we may come to an acceptance that is part willed, part the effect of other experiences masking, at least for a while, the rawness we feel. To move from accepting to embracing the loss, to see it as God sees it, is the work of grace; and we do not all receive grace in the same measure or at the same time. It is, however, something we aim at, or should aim at. As Julian of Norwich remarked, ‘Love was his meaning;’ and until we have grasped that, we have not really understood anything at all.

To return to my hens. The grace of the novitiate was sufficient to allow me to accept my role of henchman and get on with the uncongenial business of digging trenches in the snow and mucking out filthy hen-coops; but it wasn’t enough to make me embrace my task. I did what I had to do with steely determination, but I could not love it. Love came later, with the realisation that, no matter how hard the task set before me, no matter how repugnant I found it, somewhere in the midst of it all was God. I cannot honestly say I found God in the hen-coop; but I did, at least, begin to seek him there.

So, the question for today is: where is your vocational hen-coop, and how are you going to deal with it?

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7 thoughts on “Hens and Their Role in My Vocation”

  1. A wonderful and refreshing blog Sr.C :it reminded me of Bro. Lawrence and his “practicing the presence of God in every situation. It also brought to mind the true story of a Christian brother persecuted and imprisoned for this faith (I think it was in China).The dear man was given the task of cleaning the cess pools,where the stench was appalling and no one came near.Light dawned in his heart”no one comes near”, and he realised that he could praise,worship and pray to his Lord to his heart’s content,and no one would forbid it or punish him further,because no one came near…..only God. The cess pool became God’s sanctuary.

  2. Thanks, S. Catherine…I enter the postulancy at Mother of God Benedictine Monastery in 11 days. Been following you for sometime now, providentially as my discernment got seriously deeper, with each yes. May God grant you the healing you desire most! Amen!

  3. Mine is living with a hip that needs replacing and the pain that it brings and the limits it has on my day to day activities, listening to God through pain is very different to the freedom I have been used to and is asking me to go deeper, testing my patience, giving me an opportunity to see God through very a very different perspective, which is very testing and trying to discern what God is asking of me in all of it, but not doing very well at the moment.

  4. Dear sister
    thank you for sharing this text with us. Your text is a grace for me going through a difficult ordeal where I can’t understand God anymore!

  5. It’s a different take on vocation within a monastic environment than one recognizable to me. My work vocations was life in the military and when I was quite junior, I had to do my share of fatigues and dirty jobs. The worst one was mucking out the horses in the stables at the back of the officers mess. I had no experience of large, hunter type horses and always feared being stepped on or crushed if they decided to lie down while I was clearing out their box. The solution was obvious, untie them, lead them outside and tie them up while I did the work, but I didn’t have the gumption (lovely word) to think of this at the time.

    This was one of those tasks, which I resented. Another was being an unpaid waiter at various mess functions. Why should someone of a higher rank and status enjoy a social life which I wasn’t entitled to and plainly couldn’t afford. But a judicious spilling of a drink over the wife of a regimental sergeant major put paid to that. Again, resentment was an issue, and the feeling of being exploited because we were there, a captive audience in some respect and with little choice.

    The issue for me was that both tasks were ones that I hadn’t signed up for, and involved serving people’s private affairs, not really part of my military duty. So, even than I had a clear idea of what I should be doing and what I shouldn’t. When I became more senior and in a position to influence these things, I ensure that those who did this type of work were volunteers and were also paid for the work that they did. Simple justice really. Off course, over the years the culture changed and such types of employment vanished as jobs were done by civilian contractors and people who wanted to own horses or to enjoy a social life had to pay for that privilege.

    More recently, struggling with a call to serve God in some capacity has been completely different. No one is ordering me or expecting me to do it. But God’s grace is somehow moving things along. Encouraging me, but also opening up opportunities that I hadn’t expected, but am now seeing as service in the sense that you right off. Being led by seeking to see God within it, really makes those opportunities a privilege and things of wonder and awe. There have been hurdles, but now the pathway has been made smooth. I have work and study to do while training for Lay Ministry, but I see this as a gift and something to be cherished, not resented. I never wonder ‘what am I doing here’ or resentful. God is here alongside me, encouraging me and empowering me. Thanks be to him.

  6. It sometimes frustrates me that older people I encounter cannot see what I would offer to our church given a chance. At work, I run projects, train people, manage a budget of nearly a million – and am frequently daunted by the responsibility.

    In my church, I do believe they look at me and see a child. You could call it an exercise in patience. ^^

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