Cloister of the Housewife

I’ve written here before about our call to love, and how it’s much easier to love people when you don’t have to actually, you know … deal with them. I expanded a bit on the struggles I’ve been having in that part of my spiritual life in my most recent article with CatholicMom:

…I’ve been struggling a lot over the last few months with a couple of coworkers who don’t always pull their weight. It makes everyone’s job difficult when people consistently slack off on their work because things can’t be left undone in a restaurant. Silverware must be wrapped, glasses must be washed, ice bins must be filled, because our customers expect us to be ready to serve them when they come in. There’s no room for pettiness when you wait tables because that leads to fewer customers, which leads to less money made on the job. So when someone leaves on a Saturday afternoon without doing their side work, everyone else has to make up for it so things don’t crash during the busy dinner shift.

Unfortunately, things crashed last Saturday evening, and I got angry at the people who hadn’t done their work. Let me rephrase that: I didn’t just get angry. I got table-flipping angry. I was so angry I felt like I couldn’t even approach Our Lord in the Eucharist on Sunday morning, and I wept throughout Mass.

I finally got to Confession this week, and Father reminded me of everything I had been contemplating throughout Lent (but failing to do). …

I felt worlds better after Confession, and God granted me the graces to get through the next couple of weeks without losing it again. (And I’m totally aware that I cannot do this without His grace and assistance, as evidenced by the idea that I wanted to literally smack someone that night.) I found solace and strength in praying the Litany of Humility and decided that, for the rest of Lent, I would listen to Matt Maher’s musical version of the song on my way to each shift.

These two strategies helped me tremendously, though I had to laugh at myself in the process. The Litany of Humility was given to me to pray at the suggestion of another Lay Dominican (not under obedience – as a mere suggestion), and I found it nearly impossible to pray it. I couldn’t do it sincerely, and I didn’t like it.

But after that breakdown at work and because of the struggles I was embroiled in, I suddenly realized that for me to have peace at work, I needed to get more humility. I was finally able to really pray the litany and mean it.

But this whole experience of working outside of my home again has been giving me a deeper appreciation for the life I was leading before that: a kind of cloister of the housewife. The idea that I had been in a kind of cloister came to me as I was re-reading In This House of Brede recently. In the book, one of the nuns calls the cloister of Brede Abbey a “powerhouse of prayer.” At the Abbey, prayer is the center of life, and there are few distractions from the outside world to distract from a deep prayer life. The cloister affords a kind of focus that’s difficult to attain in the outside world, but it’s not an escape from that outside world. (News comes in through letters and visits through the grille.)

This idea of being less distracted by the outside world has really hit home for me since I started working in mid-June of last year. I have found it difficult to keep my prayer schedule, and my time off from work is often mis-spent (or wasted, in my eyes) because I have felt such a need for mental down-time after being “on” as Extrovert Christine the Waitress.

Before going back to work, I could use my time at home to keep a small powerhouse of prayer going: I could stop and pray the Angelus when my phone notified me that it was noon. I didn’t find it difficult to be sure I was keeping up with Lauds and Vespers each day, or pray a Rosary a decade or so at a time while I did other things. My day could be sanctified by little prayers and prayerful, silent work.

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Being at home meant that I had fewer distractions, less busy-ness and noise. It afforded me the ability to focus, but not an escape from the outside world, much like those nuns who are cloistered. I still knew that people needed prayers, and I could offer them.

Working, though, has challenged me to find other ways of sanctifying my day. I can’t drop everything at noon for the Angelus (that Whiskey Bacon Burger needs to be run, please, and grab those four sweet teas on the way, too). I can’t always pray Lauds and Vespers the way I feel like I ought to. But I have been trying to find ways to inject some prayer time within my work shifts. I often use wrapping silverware as a way to pray all or part of a Rosary by counting out 10 knives and saying a Hail Mary as I wrap each set. I try to offer up my shift for my coworkers and even my customers. When I’m hurt and sore and stuck working anyway (because waitresses don’t get sick days and it’s hard to cover a shift when staffing is tight), I try to unite that pain with Christ’s sacrifice and ask the Blessed Mother to pray for whomever she sees needs it most.

Working has helped me realize that praying for people and loving them seems easier when you’re not out in the world, but encountering them out there also means that I gain more sympathy for and understanding of them. That I can learn more about the world and the people in it by engaging than by using my home to hide (which, frankly, as an introvert I now see I was doing for a while). It’s good for me – even spiritually – to be out of my little bubble and meet people where they are. I am praying for people regularly that I would never have known to pray for before. I’m learning more about the needs of others outside of that bubble where I had been living before.

But I am still longing for the day when I might go back to my little cloister, free to stop at noon every day when my phone tells me to pray the Angelus. When work is quieter, though hidden.

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But for now, I’ll keep working on stretching spiritually and see what God is trying to teach me as I work outside of my cloister for this period of time.


Text and images ©2018, Christine Johnson

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