The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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November 2, 2001 Issue
Special Section:
Family Life Month

Convert your minivan
into a monastery

Book serves as a companion
for parents in need of inspiration

By Tom Rinkoski

There's a lot of ordinary time out there filled with noise and children and mess and clutter. If you are a parent, that time is composed of attending soccer games, meeting with teachers and ferrying life from one event to another.

The Roman Catholic Church, with its bold history, imposing catalogue of saints and fantastic cathedrals has a way a making one feel that ordinary mom and dad time is, well, just that -- ordinary -- somehow a far distance removed from the God of Christmas and Easter. I have always been suspicious of this approach. I spent time in a seminary, and found God, instead, in the arms of my wife, the craziness of parenting, and in places like the kitchen and the zoo.

I recently discovered a book, entitled, My Monastery is a Minivan by Denise Roy. It is subtitled, Where the Daily Is Divine and the Routine Becomes Prayer. On the front cover there is a picture of a familiar looking van with the words written on the back window in soap, "35 Stories from a Real Life."

The book was recommended to me by another author who wrote what I would call the definitive work on parenting as a spiritual path. I trusted her recommendation, and she didn't let me down.

Appropriately enough, I read My Monastery is A Minivan cover to cover at a parenting fair in Green Bay. It is a page turner! The author Denise Roy (mother of four) takes you through her personal journey of balancing family, career and spiritual practice. The stories are humorous and heartwarming. Her stories will introduce you to a God I believe in that is not afraid of dirty dishes, littered minivans, and bruised and bandaged flesh. This book will be a wonderful companion to any parent in need of a little inspiration, as well as affirmation for the God that peeks and pokes into the daily grind. Here's a quote from the book:

"And then I had a revelation. My monastery is not a silent cell out in the wilderness. My monastery is a minivan. It is also a kitchen, a child's bedroom, an office. My monastery is in the heart of the world -- in family life, with a child on my lap, in my partner's arms."

The book examines a phrase from the story of Jacob where this wrestler proclaims, "Surely God is in this place and I did not know it." In a religion all too influenced by bishops, monks and cloistered nuns we unfortunately equate holiness with church chants and pious practices, then we go home (which we call sometimes 'the real world').

In a religion where we separate sex from holiness, it is all too easy to disconnect basic feelings and lose touch from God. Perhaps, the author suggests, holiness is not a complete and permanent transformation, or a specific and blessed place, but a moment here and there to which we have only but to awaken. Again, a quote from the book:

"The real pilgrimage is one we can make every day as we go to the center of our lives, look around, and see who is there with us. They've all arrived: our children, our fellow workers, our partners, our parents, our community. These are our fellow travelers, the ones who have shown up in this time and place. Holy ground exists right in our own backyard when we love in ways we didn't think we could, when we call upon our best selves to be present to one another. We make a journey to love, right in the midst of all our diapering, cleaning, feeding, grieving, laughing, holding, living, dying -- doing ordinary things with great love."

One of the best things I have ever seen this Diocese do is to plant a tree in honor of a groundskeeper who worked here. At the base of the tree is a plaque that honors him using a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. The plaque says, " If a man is called to be a groundskeeper, he should care for the ground even as Michaelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should treat the grounds so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'There lived a great groundskeeper who did his job well.'" We each need to get in touch with the graces we are given daily.

The book is published by Loyola Press in Chicago. It has 212 pages that you will want to underline and read more than once. It costs $14.95 in its paperback form, which is big enough to know you have it in your hands, but not so big you can't prop it up on the recipe holder while you are doing dishes.

I just wanted to tell you about this book because it reminded me of why I believe so much in the holiness of family life. Convert your minivan into a monastery! Send me a picture.

(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life Director)

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