Monday, June 23, 2008

Life in a Benedictine Monastery

"Lord our God, through Your loving kindness, 
hear and answer our prayers
as they rise to You in this offering.

Through Your saints, Benedict and Scholastica,
You have called many to the school of Your service.
We ask that many other men and women, throughout the world, 
would hear and answer Your call in our monastic way of life, 
especially here at St. Gregory's Abbey.

Grant each of us the gift of holy perseverance-that we may prefer nothing to Your love.
This we ask through Christ our Lord.  Amen."
-Prayer for Vocations, recited at the conclusion of Vespers-

After spending the past week at St. Gregory's Abbey in Shawnee, Oklahoma in fervent prayer and academic focus upon monastic spirituality, it has been a tough couple of days acclimating back to life as usual here in the real world.  It is hard to explain how deeply this experience has impacted me but I will make an attempt.  

First, I came to this experience with the presupposition that one would pursue monastic community b/c of one's inability to function in everyday society and culture without being succumb to temptation and sin.  In reality, those that seek monastic community are not fleeing the world but seeking to live amongst the world, praying for its salvation and working to establish connection with those outside of the monastery.  Second, I believed that a disciplined, order life vowed to obedience would be limiting and confining, not allowing one to make one's own decisions and choose one's direction.  How many of us are really in charge of our own life anyway?  In monastic community, I found that authority and obedience are channels for creativity, allowing one to determine how one will live out their vow to engage the world with work and prayer (ora et labora) in ways that are authentic to who God has created them to be.  The monks did not see their direction to the monastic way of life as a "call", like so many of us who are Protestant.  They expressed their observation that God had created them for this life, fulfilling an ontological rather than a functional call to a particular way of life.  Third, I understood that a monastic community was engaged in prayer for the world primarily and work secondarily.  However, after engaging with the monks of this community, I realized that the community views its work and its prayer as engaging the world in a real and deeply impacting manner.  Their praying of the Psalms and the Daily Offices and their work is not just to give them something else to do and strictly for the benefit of each other.  They understood that when they got together to pray, all around the world others were gathering to pray the exact same word, asking for the salvation of all creation and not just their little community.  

Likewise, these observations leaked heavily into my own life.  In my own practice of spiritual disciplines or practices, I was not simply engaging in some work that pleases God or sounds good to my own ears.  I am not fasting, praying, and engaging in Lectio Divina so that God is happy or I can gloat about my own piety amongst others.  I am engaging in acts of denial, denying the use of my time solely to my own purposes and goals and to the purposes and goals of God.  I am engaging in practices that others around the world are engaging in for the purpose of praying for the salvation of all of creation.  Also, b/c of my deep interest in the Neo-Monastic movement, discovering what lies at the heart of true monasticism to see how authentic and honest this movement and those engaged in it are to the tradition it seeks to re-present to current culture.  Finally, engaging the monks on an individual level helped me to see beyond the stereotypical view of monks as cloistered, sinless, holy men huddled in the desert contemplating God silently.   I met men who had asked themselves, and God for that matter, the deeper questions of life and faith.  Men who are in a consistent spirit of growth and movement towards each other and to God.  Men who are trying as valiantly as I am to live life in the model of God-with-us, Jesus Christ and sometimes doing a horrible job at it.  It was deeply affirming and when I received a blessing from one of the Fathers who spent the entire week from us, I felt closer to understanding my own ontological "calling" from God to pursue the establishment of authentic, honest communities like this one amidst the world.   

I encourage all those reading this now to another spiritual discipline: pilgrimage.  Take a journey to St. Gregory's in Shawnee, Oklahoma (outside of Oklahoma City) on the grounds of St. Gregory's University. To engage in a deep experience of this nature one must flee the world for a little while and re-train their hearts, bodies, and minds to the rhythm of monastic life.

Thanks to Dr. Frederick Schmidt, David Whidden, Father Charles Buckley O.S.B, Brother Kevin, Brother Isidore, Brother George, and the entire monastic community at St. Gregory's.  Also, thanks to my fellow classmates, those women and men that took this journey into the wilderness and back with me this past week.    
For a much more detailed account of the week, visit, the blog of fellow classmate Leanne Lindgren at a certain other blog site


Leanne said...

Aww... Thanks for the shout-out! :-) Your thoughts were shorter, but much deeper than mine. I'm interested to read your blog!! :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your wise words. They are the most profound that I have ever heard from a monastic guest. Here in England, at Prinknash Abbey, Gloucester (English Province, Subiaco Congregation OSB) we have similar experiences, but we are mostly elderly, and have no young vocations (under 45) at the moment. I feel sure the Benedictine way is perennially valid, even for those who do not live in a monastery.
Father Mark Hargreaves o.s.b.