This summer I have been asked three times to open my home to others to live for one to three weeks. Each time I have said yes. The third time–still coming up–I will be away while a family of five from England stays in my house (hopefully with no damage to the two year old in my not-especially-childproof home of many bookshelves). But with the first two visitors, I was reminded how good it can be to have a housemate, and how a long history of sharing a house leaves you with a muscle that springs easily into use again.
My first guest was a woman who came from Georgia to teach a three week summer university course in African American literature. She is a woman of 60, with a long varied history that began in NYC and has involved professional dance, high school teaching, and poetry performance (among other things). She lived in Macomb for 8 years before moving down to Georgia, and occasionally we shared long searching conversations, especially when we happen to be taking Amtrak to or from Chicago at the same time, though we were never close friends. But when she was staying in my home, we just fell into a rhythm together as easy as if we’d been sharing a space a long time. Perhaps it’s in part because our rhythms are similar: two independent women with daily rhythms that keep us centered (hers involving yoga and meditation and oatmeal in the morning, and now golf wherever she can), and a nationwide network of friends. In any case, I was reminded that two people didn’t need to have begun as close friends to share a living space easily, if they’re thoughtful and responsive to one another’s ways.
The second visit was by a fellow Lutheran theologian who came for a week’s writing retreat. Her visit involved more intense shared discussion, both collegial and personal. And I very much like working on a solitary creative project in the silent company of someone else doing the same thing (something I did daily with my housemate of several years in graduate school).
During her last night here, this friend said that I was both easy to be with and stimulating at the same time–a combination she otherwise found most in her husband. I myself was reminded of how much easier and good life is when it’s lived within an atmosphere of collegial conversation–processing both scholarly and institutional decisions out of a shared sense of values and commitments, as well as regular (not sporadic) shared times of friendship over meals and walks and little adventures. I’ve lacked a steady sense of this since I left graduate school, where I took it for granted.
I continue to think that the greatest difference between Benedictines and Oblates concerns precisely this daily texture of collegial “ruled” existence. Perhaps couples who are both Oblates have a quite different experience, but even then, a community of two is a fairly limited institution–unless a whole family lives together as Oblates, I suppose.
The Oblate community is a vital shared space of prayer, but it’s not a daily steady diet the way housemates in a shared graduate program can be (a time of significant formation with an intensity and discipline not unlike a monastic one). Our work and community investments aren’t always with people who consciously reflect on or share a commitment to Benedictine sorts of values.
It might be good to hear Benedictines share something about how they experience their work environments in contrast with their home community environments, and how they feel the difference between living Benedictine values at home and at work.
In any case, my guests this summer have not only given me an opportunity to remember that a certain kind of hospitality has grown to be second-nature to me; they have also challenged me to imagine and live towards ways of cultivating a sense of collegial friendships even when they required being shared most often across a distance.