Way back in August of 2015 Esperanza ( “hope” in Spanish), Espy for short, then a four month old kitten, appeared at Amma’s back door. Acting really cute so that Amma Jane and Prior John were enamored, she landed abruptly in the cloister. Well this really disrupted the status quo. Welcoming newcomers with love – what Benedict asks of us – isn’t always easy.
What has been your experience? Someone new comes to your church or monastery or work group or even your family, and suddenly, everything shifts and no one knows what to expect. I don’t know about how you feel about someone new coming into any group you’re a part of, but Charlotte, Target and I weren’t particularly happy with the new addition to the cloister.
A Newcomer Upsets the Feline Cloister
Espy was and still is very unpredictable with mood swings. Prior John has said that she can look like Charles Manson! (Check the link if you don’t believe me.)
Espy has a difficult time following the Rule. Here’s just one infraction. Benedict is very clear that no one is to own anything, saying that the evil practice of private ownership “must be uprooted and removed from the monastery” (33.1) Espy thinks everything is hers. I can’t used the scratch rug or play with the mouse (not a real one) without Espy running over, jumping on me and chasing me away. In fact, she loves to chase me and did so relentlessly until the second big change came last month. Amma brought home a four-month old kitten from the animal shelter.
Yet Another New Cloister Member
Nikki is really cute (see picture). She was brought into the cloister in a most appropriate way. This was unlike the entry of Sr Epsy, who immediately appear in the Cloister, to the shock of us all.
Let me explain the Benedictine way of entry. Benedict explains in Chapter 58 that anyone wanting to come into the monastery must not have an easy entry (like Espy did) but paw at the door for four or five days. The perspective member must who how patient she or he is before they are even allowed to enter (58.1-3). Amma did this with Nikki. Nikki lived in Amma’s office for a week. A door separated our cloister from Amma’s office.
Espy took the role of porter of the monastery and stationed herself at that door. She and Nikki played “paws under the door” for a number of days. That went rather well. No claws extended and no hissing. It seems that Sr Espy followed some of Benedict’s instructions for the porter by being a welcoming and attentive presence to little Nikki. (RB 66.1-3) When Nikki finally entered she had met everyone and everyone had met her, all at the gate of the Cloister.
Wrestling in the Cloister!
In spite of the advanced prep, things got off to a rocky start.
Espy and Nikki started vigorous wrestling which scared Amma. She whipped out the Rule and tried to stop the fray by pontificating on Chapter 70 – The Presumption of Striking Another Monastic At Will, where Benedict says that no one has the authority to strike another without the power given by the superior. Being peace-loving, Amma would never allow this. What to do??
I mewed to her that perhaps she ought to do an internet search on “kittens wrestling” and see what pops up. Well, she did and learned that because no claws were extended, no fur stood up on back or tail, no hissing was done and turns were taken chasing each other, they were just playing. So Amma relaxed a bit and instructed in firm tone that they were not to injure the other (4.30). They were to to keep careful watch over all they do because she and God were watching (4.48-49).
Eying Newcomers With Suspicion
We cats can really eye one another suspicion, especially with newcomers. Do you ever do this with other people, too?
By intimidating looks and occasional swipes at both Espy and Nikki, Target has made sure that he’s still Top Cat. Very un-Benedictine, but all of us can do this by how we treat someone new. We may not be so blunt as to give an intimidating look, but we can still close our hearts, right?
Benedict always reminds us to lead with love. This means that we welcome a guest or new feline/human as Christ (53.1). We are to show the other pure love (72.8), and are to be the first to show respect (72.4). We refrain from hissing anything harmful to another (4.51). Finally we are not to mew an empty greeting (4.25).
Benedict asks us to treat even the newest member of the community with respect and to listen to what they might meow that could be helpful to Amma and to the community (3.3).
I offer all this to help you next time a new person comes into any group you are a part of. Maybe all that Benedict suggests could be a part of your own purpose – to welcome newcomers with love as Christ has welcomed you!
Your feline confrere,