Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 190

This summer I read The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl and remember two great passages. In the first chapter, Hampl recalls being prepared for her First Confession and learning as an eight-year-old that daydreaming was considered an “occasion of sin.” That’s what the Baltimore Catechism listed in its “examination of conscience.” Hampl writes, “I don’t hesitate. I throw my lot with the occasion of sin. I couldn’t care less what it’s called. It’s pure pleasure. Infinite delight. For this a person goes to hell. Okay then.”

Later in the book she writes about asking a cloistered nun “what her way of life was based upon—love of god, the search for meaning? What was the foundation of the contemplative life? Oh, she said without a pause—leisure it’s based on leisure.” Hampl continues, “She didn’t say her life was about leisure, but based on it.”

Truth be told I did go to the monastery at the age of 17 because I was attracted to a life of leisure. I imagined days spent in reading and prayer and slow walks in the cloister and lots of silence and solitude. I was only in the monastery a day or two when that image was erased. We spent most of our time working and working and working. And though we didn’t talk, we were always in a group—not much solitude. It took a few years, but I finally figured out that you had to make your own time for leisure. It didn’t necessarily come by following the daily monastic schedule. That meant working at having real conversations, praying the psalms in a reflective manner, building in regular time for reading and writing and daydreaming, taking time to visit museums and art galleries, and attend an occasional play and concert. The world will do everything it can to convince you that all of this is an “occasion of sin,” a way of getting sidetracked from all the work that must be done to bring in the reign of God. But, like Hampl, I believe that staring out windows for long periods of time, that imagination and reflection and wasting hours with friends over a good meal or over a good poem, is as essential as works of mercy.

Well, I like to think that I believe it. Yet even this morning, I woke up thankful that the worst of my cold and flu bout was over, and I could attack my “to do list” with a vengeance, making up for the work day that I had missed. I felt a little guilty when I found myself too fatigued and was forced to take it easy, mostly loafing and napping. Then I remembered one of Dorothy Day’s favorite Desert Sayings: “Each morning I wake up will all these solutions and joyous I lay waste the day.”

To view or make comments you must be logged in to Monasteries of the Heart. If you are not yet a member, you can create a free membership account at now. A real person authenticates each new member account to avoid spam accounts so you will not have immediate access. As soon as your account is verified you will receive an email with further instructions.

A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

Previous Posts Posted