A New Paradigm Of An Old Tradition
Mutual Mentoring Inside a Monastic Community
Relationship between community members
I think mutual mentoring is about respecting the other sister or brother, seeing Christ in her or him, regardless of education, age, background, or experience. Mutual mentoring is about respecting ourselves, believing that we are a vessel of the Spirit and believing that we have something to offer. Mutual mentoring seems to involve humility--knowing our limitations and our giftedness. Mutual mentoring also involves mutual obedience, mutual listening to one another. Mutual mentoring brings about the daily conversion that Benedict encouraged within a community.
Terence Kardong, in one of his early commentaries on the Rule, says that respect is the word used for what is owed to human persons. The concept of respect is based on the idea of a careful look at someone or something. To respect someone is to give him or her our full attention.6 I would add, to respect someone is to allow ourselves to be mentored by that person, to be guided by that person. Terrence also says that it is probable that Benedict regards respect as a type of love, since it the first example given for "fervent love" (RB 72.3-4).7
Sister Mary Benet McKinney is a Benedictine woman who visited our community and mentored us in using a process at community meetings that builds on the respect I have just described. Sister Mary Benet calls this "sharing wisdom." It is a model of church she has worked with and developed since the early 1970s.8 I remember her saying that each person has a piece of the wisdom and no one has it all. Thus, we have to be open to listening to one another, to being mentored by another.
As a result of Sister Mary Benet's mentoring, at all our chapter meetings, we have what we call "stable tables." We put six to eight sisters of various ages and randomly selected around the same table for a year--hence the term "stable." All discussion takes place at that stable table. It is where each person can share her piece of the wisdom and listen to others. Often we hear a report from each of the tables. This model of mutual mentoring, or sharing the wisdom, has truly worked well for us.
The process of ongoing formation is another way that mutual mentoring happens among members of my community. Shortly after the changes of the Vatican Council when our community was feeling very lost, the prioress appointed one of our sisters to be head of personal and spiritual development. We began to realize that formation is lifelong, that we continually need to be formed in the monastic way of life. We continually need to be mentored by one another. We opened ourselves to being mentored in classes on Scripture and prayer. We also had summer classes in communications, healthy community living, and group dynamics.
Another way that we have mutual mentoring happening among community members is through our deaneries, or small living groups. When we renovated a significant part of the monastery from 1993 to 1995, we intentionally set up space for small living groups. Each set of twelve rooms has a living room, TV room, and kitchenette. This small living group is where we celebrate each others gifts and challenge each other to grow. We have been asked to spend at least one evening a week together as a deanery, or living group. Our group of fourteen, which includes three sisters in temporary profession, will often have faith-sharing and shared prayer as part of our time together. In this process, I feel that others have mentored me and I have mentored them. Perhaps the most important way that mentoring happens is by our example, our daily faithfulness to the monastic life.
Our liturgies have been another wonderful opportunity to mutually mentor one another. We have been inviting sisters to take a turn sharing their reflections on the Sunday readings with the community at our Saturday evening prayer or at the vigil for major feasts. Often afterward, discussion about the reading or reflection will take place at the dinner table, so there is more mutual mentoring happening. At our wake services, we reflect on the life and love of a deceased sister and how she mentored us. In the sharing, we hear what is valued by each other, and we are mentored. The prayer leader for each week is invited to write the prayer petitions for the office. With these petitions we are mentored about what we hold sacred and what we need to focus on in our prayer.
I have shared various examples of where and how I consider mutual mentoring has happened in my community. I am sure you all have similar examples. I would like for you to take a few moments of silence and reflect on some of the most meaningful mutual mentoring experiences within your own community that you have experienced. After you have had time to do that, I am going to ask you to select one to share with the person next to you.
8Mary Benet McKinney, O.S.B., "Being and Building Church: A Rough Climb Up the Mountain to Genuine Collaborative Decision Making," 30th Convention of the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, November 11, 2001. return