Weaving Benedictine Mindfulness

by Denice Bezoplenko
Living From The Heart – Module Five – May, 2015

My daughter and daughter-in-law have taken up the craft of weaving. On the warp and woof of a lap frame they layer random bits of thread, well-chosen wool, and leftovers from other projects, to create a piece. Their experience, expressed to me on a recent visit, has been that each creative project is the contemplative coming together of body, mind and spirit. Weaving is a common metaphor for life, yet particularly so for the Benedictine life, which serves as framework for artful, holistic living.  For me, the Benedictine trio of mindfulness – harmony, awareness, and balance, are being woven into the ongoing art piece that is my life.

I was graced with this realization recently. After a weekend spent with our adult children, deep and lively in our conversations, it seemed as though Joan Chittister was present, affirming, nodding, gently guiding and tempering, so that the conversations themselves were the weekend weavings of intertwining thoughts toward a piece. Each informing each, by confession and celebration, we spoke of awareness, meaningful work, hospitality and holy leisure, all Benedictine qualities.

I heard particular passion in my words as I expressed the art of mindfulness, a practice in this season that seems to bring all the threads together to a whole. Chittister echoes, as though present to us, “Awareness of the sacred in life is what holds our world together and the lack of awareness and sacred care is what is tearing it apart.”[1] Part of my confession to my daughters was that decades of my life were spent fragmented from myself, and imbalanced. Patience is teaching me the truth of “better late than never” so that the telling is not empty with despair, but serves as a flag to warn them, lovingly. “Awareness, women!” I repeat, with some humour, like the Teacher offering wisdom to the weary traveler in Chittister’s story.[2]

For awareness unveils such good news: that all of life is sacred, “the awls, the rakes, the trough, and the chalice”. [3] We had been sharing this similar thread of a thought, speaking of mindful presence, of slowing our days down enough to experience fully each single act. “Do one thing. Do it completely.” The slow, morning pour-over coffee ritual, with the added anticipation of a newly gifted pottery mug, perfectly formed, the attentive mixing of skin cleansing grains, already mindfully formulated by my daughter for me, into the diminutive handmade bowl, mixed with a diminutive handmade spoon. Is this holy or is this an empty indulgence, we asked? Chittister writes that awareness is both the question and the answer. We grappled.

I spoke with my son along these lines the next morning. He lives from the creative work of his skilled hands, daily crafting useful and beautiful goods with leather. We also grappled together over the bombardments of North American life, of balancing news of Nepalese earthquake victims with celebrity, fashion and consumption. These conflictions often collide in the center of each of us, and sometimes in the air between, leaving the question hanging; how much is enough? Benedictine spirituality calls us to connectedness, where our work is mindful of the threads that connect us to each other.[4] I confess to him (again) my own lurching rhythm between a love for aesthetic design with its appeal for bigger, better, more, and the burden of guilt with its aversion-ed responses.

I confessed that my imbalance has been tipped toward guilt, overemphasized productivity, and ascetic forms of self-denial, even while aesthetically surrounded. It is interesting to note the visual similarity of these two words in their extreme polarity; “aesthetic” and “ascetic”, bouncing back and forth in me in dissonant rhythms.  Benedictine balance smiles an invitation here. It was lovely news to hear my daughter note the change in me in recent years as she has watched me prep for houseguests this week. Apparently, I am more present to myself, no longer frenetic about the many undone things, calmer, and hospitably available to others. Gratitude wells for the gift of such heart movements.

There were other Benedictine flavors, too, to our weekend weavings. Chittister offered her Benedictine nod to our family conversations surrounding the idea of place, of prairie love, Wendell Berry sensibilities, and of the lifestyle of small and local. For we, like the Benedictines, live from one small place. It is my desire that I/we share “a one-eyed, single-minded mindfulness” [for this] piece of the Garden.[5] It is work and it is holy leisure, both, in balance offering their gifts to us. Mindfulness here is life lived well, where work is deemed a privilege. After a long recovery from a broken ankle that prohibited last year’s gardening efforts, it rings doubly true. I recently found myself saying, “Oh, it is good to dig with a shovel again.”

And so I enter spring, a new working season, yet the practice of mindfulness has been shaping, tempering, and transforming what I have thought work to be, the qualifier of worth and guilt’s slave. Yet not all past labor is lost. One evening had us pulling out pictures from our early days here on the acreage. Our children playing in the yard, barren then in comparison to today, or digging in places where there are flowers now and shrubs. As Chittister points out, it is what we have cared for, (this land), that we have grown to care about. Our youngest daughter wears the flowers native to this place, newly tattooed and bold enough to echo her deep love for here. Redemptive grace abounds.

Like a weaving, my children and their spouses are lovingly, communally entwined with my own living. I recognize them as Benedictine companions. As I mindfully listen to my life, as we listen each and together, for the sounds of truth, my hope is that we learn to experience all of life as sacred, that we might be transformed in the process.[6] It is the Benedictine way.

[1] Chittister, Joan. Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. Reprint edition. HarperOne, 2013, Kindle location 948
[2] ibid, Kindle location 939
[3] ibid, Kindle location 939
[4] ibid, Kindle location 963
[5] ibid, Kindle location 978
[6] ibid, Kindle location 993


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