I pulled weeds along with Father Theodorein his garden today. Last year Father Theodore, who teaches theology and religion here, was our instructor for part of our class, since the abbey's spiritual formation director, Father Charles, was occupied with the junior monks. Father Theodore came to St. Gregory's as a boarding school student and joined soon after. He took some theology courses here and then finished up elsewhere. Several years ago he moved from the main monastic quarters into the student dorms, because he wanted the students to have more exposure to the monks. When he was a student here, all of the boarding students and the monks shared quarters in Benedictine Hall, before the monastic quarters were built. As a result, he was more familiar with the monks before he joined.
Father Theodore started building a garden in a square space bounded by four of the dorm walls and that is where we worked yesterday. He has some tomatoes planted right now and some of them look like they'll be ready soon. He said that if there were any ripe cherry tomatoes that he'd likely eat them right off the vine. It's good to know that even monks don't always delay gratification! He said that sometimes he jokes with people that "one way to get rid of temptation is to give in to it!"
I have no idea how long we pulled weeds -- maybe an hour or so. When I was a kid sometimes weed-pulling was assigned as punishment for something I did wrong, with the number of bags required dependent upon the severity of the crime. The great thing about weeding is the sense of accomplishment that one has when a bed is cleared, no matter how Sisyphean the task. But the task really wasn't unpleasant with Father Theodore, we talked some and we were silent some. I sometimes think about weeding as a metaphor for sin in our lives. It's not a one-time task, but an ongoing struggle that requires constant attention. I can't root out my selfishness and pride once and be done with it, it requires attention and there are no shortcuts. And perhaps, like many things in life, it is a task best done with another person, not alone.
The other remarkable thing about weeding with Father Theodore is how much faster he is than me. He's probably in his 60's and he's been fighting prostate cancer which has spread to his bones. Nevertheless, he must have pulled five weeds for every one I pulled. I could not help but be humbled by his work ethic and his kindness in the midst of his own struggle.
UPDATE: When I woke up this morning I was sore from hunching over and weeding. I knew it was coming and it kind of felt good.