A priest goes on retreat to a monastery. He really needs his time away. He gets to the monastery and things go pretty well, except for this bothersome guy named John who prays next to him in the chapel every day and is always in the refectory for meals. John was annoying, not the kind of person he wants to be around this week, but he finishes the retreat and goes home.
Some months later he calls the monastery to book another retreat and says to the guesthouse manager, “Yes, I’d like to book a retreat, but—if possible—can you book me for a week when that fellow John won’t be there?”
The guest house manager replies, “Oh, father, I’m sorry. That’s not possible. John’s here all the time. He’s the one who teaches us how to love.”
Joan Chittister reminds us that Benedict’s “Rule”, which governs life in a monastery, devotes a whole section to welcoming guests: “Let an old monastic be placed at the door of the monastery, who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, one who cannot run about because of age. As soon as anyone knocks, or a poor person calls out, the porter replies, ‘Benedicite,’ ‘God bless you.’” Or, in modern parlance, Chittister suggests, “Bless you for coming to interrupt our perfect lives.”
I am aware in my own life that when I become unhappy, angry and feel set upon, it is because I have begun my day with a huge delusion: that everything will go as I planned and no one will interrupt me, no unforeseen problem or accident or difficulty will interpose itself on my perfectly imagined day.
Advent invites us to watch and wait. See what stranger may show up and interrupt our perfect day. Practice opening the door to that stranger* and saying, Benedicite.
* “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)