Visiting a monastery can be a bit disorienting. Everyone walks around staring at the ground, wearing Medieval garb, and no one talks. Not exactly a place where the average American feels at home unless maybe you are my husband who is more of an introvert than anyone I know. Still, even to him, entering into a community that exists mostly in silence feels isolating until, he says, you arrive at meal time and find a seat with a card marked with your name on it. It is a simple thing but it lets you know that you were expected and that there is a place for you here. With that little card which is laid out with a napkin and napkin ring the heart of monastic hospitality is conveyed.
At the monastery you get one napkin, it is switched out when laundry is done at the end of the week. You keep your napkin and name card tucked into its ring. And while some elements of this routine feel a bit stiff and formal it is exactly the formalities of it that give you a sense of place, an understanding of how things work and clarify your role in it.
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We took up cloth napkins pretty quickly in our house mostly because it felt practical. I am not one to take up anything fancy. I don’t want ruffles or anything that will break. I don’t even have more than three dishes that match. But give me something that is reusable and that saves me a few pennies and the earth a few trees and I’m all for it.
This week in the Liturgy of Life Reading group we read through Edith Schaeffer’s Hidden Art of Homemaking. In typical fashion she takes what seems like an exceptionally trivial topic, “flower arrangements,” and turns it upside down. In it she reminds us of the power of beauty to communicate and help foster communication between others. She challenges us to look for the little everyday things and turn them into something special, to seize exactly those mundane moments and use them as occasions for beauty that will inspire and delight our families and prepare us all to live in appreciation of the world around us.