I feel like I harp on the idea of sustainability, maybe I’m a bit obsessed. But sustainability is one of the most important goals in building a domestic monastery. A lot of homesteaders are very excited about self-sufficiency; many of them are prepping for a dark future: getting their homesteads ready to weather the storms of civil unrest, financial uncertainty, even zombies.
I don’t disagree, dark times are all around us. We’ve definitely been aware of the darkness in the world. Like St. Benedict, we’re seeing our society tear itself apart on many levels. But isolating self-sufficiency isn’t our goal, and if you’re trying to build a lifestyle inspired by the Benedictines, it can’t be your goal either.
Of course, we do want to grow more of our own food. We mix up many of our own medicines. We have bees coming (at last!) this spring, we cut our own firewood (for the most part), and keep inching towards a more place-centered homestead. The end goal is a homestead that can live out it’s year much as the medieval monasteries did. Raising food, preserving food; praying, growing, and healing within our own borders. But, and here’s where it becomes ‘sustainability’ instead of ‘self-sufficiency’ – we want our borders, the boundaries of our land and resources, to be flexible.
We want them to open wide in welcome, we want them to send out gifts and resources to those in need, we want to offer assistance, and be gracefully receptive when assistance is offer to us. If the world does indeed get darker and more dangerous, we want to be a place of refuge.
Sustainability on our little homestead is a long term goal. We are building something that can last. Something our children may use to build their own futures on, or something that can be reclaimed by nature. Hopefully, when we’re done with our little patch of woodland, there will be monks here to tend the trees and pray for our souls.
Self-sufficiency is about meeting the needs the homestead, through self-reliance and sacrifice. Sustainability, we hope, will allow us to create beauty, hospitality, and sanctuary, so that when we’re gone, the land we’ve left behind will be full of blessings.
It’s the work of a whole lifetime, and beyond. Benedictine communities, and the homesteads we model after them, are sustainable and sustaining; they’re little flickering lights in the world, through dark times and joyful ones.