The Smells and Bells of the Domestic Monastery The Smells and Bells of the Domestic Monastery

My husband Joel is in deacon formation and we travel once a month to Conception Abbey and Seminary, a Benedictine monastery, for theological training. Through our visits, I’ve developed a great admiration for the Benedictine way of life --- ordered, simple, and purposeful. There’s a time to work, a time to pray, a time to rest, and a time to play. During our visits, I find myself, almost spectator like, standing on the sidelines and watching monastic life unfold before me. I’ve bent the ears of a few monks, no doubt exhausting them with what seems to be a never-ending series of questions, which essentially boil down to this: How, if it’s even possible, can I allow the domestic to become more monastic?

All monasteries have a bell and when that bell rings, the monks are to drop what they are doing and go to wherever the bell is summoning them --- prayer, meals, work, study, sleep. The monastic bell helps to strengthen the monks’ discipline, pushing them beyond their own agenda to God's.

Speaking of bells, the phrase “smells and bells” is a colloquial expression used within the Church that refers to various sensory experiences occurring during the liturgy --- incense and bells, oil and water, bread and wine. The domestic church, at least my domestic church, has its share of smells and bells, too.

  • The barking, slobbering black lab who has gone into constant guard-dog mode ever since our firstborn arrived home from the hospital;
  • The eruption of tears from the toddler as a result of the barking dog;
  • The constant pleas of the 4-year-old to play games, go to the park, read a book, look at her latest artistic masterpiece … simply pay attention to her;
  • The pitter-patter of toddler feet coming ever closer while I’m trying to have just one moment to myself … in the bathroom;
  • The full diaper pail with the worn-out seals begging to be relieved of a week’s worth of “contents”;
  • THAT smell in the refrigerator that won’t go away.

Not quite the same as the Benedictine monastery, but there is a parallel. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, "This moment in time God has carved a place for you." And that place at this time is here within my domestic monastery, this humble abode we call Das Schmidt Haus. It is here where I’m finally learning that time is not mine, it’s God’s. When any of these domestic smells or bells cries out for my attention, just like the monastic bell does for the monks, I have to drop whatever else I am doing and attend to it. A constant reminder that my time is not my own, and it belongs to someone else.

During one of my ear-bending inquisitions of one of the monks, he actually suggested I, like many at-home moms, may have this whole monastic thing down better than most monks. Say what? His point was that the domestic bell doesn’t ring at regular intervals by which you could set a watch. It comes in many forms at different times, often unexpected. The domestic “monk” must be ever-vigilant, ready to be summoned to attend to the needs of another at a moment’s notice.

The domestic can be monastic. Sure, it looks nothing like the ordered simplicity of the abbey, but that’s precisely the point. My call is different. I’m not meant to be a monk any more than one of them is meant to be a mom. But our vocations are complimentary. I look to the monks for inspiration in the areas of order, simplicity, and prayer. The monks, I have learned, look to us as icons of the Holy Family for inspiration in the areas of sacrifice and community.

Maybe I have precisely what I need to grow in holiness right here after all. Well, gotta run; the domestic bell is ringing. What IS that smell?!

Copyright 2013 Lisa Schmidt