St. Gregory’s Abbey
Intro to Monastic Spirituality
Several months ago I received a notice in my mailbox at school about a 3 hour summer class that revolved around a week in a monastery. I gave it a lot of thought, talked to some people about it, and signed up. I’d read a book about a nun and her life over Christmas break and became very intrigued. That book was my first exposure to monastic life. I gave a lot of thought to spending some time in a monastery over the winter break. I’m glad I didn’t because this was such an incredible experience, I’m glad that I got to spend my first time in the monastery at St. Gregory’s. The friends I made in the class shaped my experience and are now forever a part of me. An analogy that Father Charles referenced during the week was that of a rock-shining tumbler. I was in a tumbler this week rolling around with other rocks. We shined each other.
Monastery Day One Sunday, June 15, 2008
I met three classmates in Dallas this morning at 11:30am and we began our drive to Shawnee, Oklahoma to St. Gregory’s Monastery and University. We spent the drive getting to know each other better and discussing our backgrounds. It was lovely and helped ease some of my anxiety. They hadn’t finished the required reading either, which made me feel much better! I had spent the day before washing everything I own and packing way too much (but no sequins!) so that no matter what happened, I’d have the appropriate outfit. What the heck do you wear in at a monastery!?
We arrived and checked-in. My room is no bigger than my freshman dorm room with tile floors and cinder-block walls.
I share a bathroom with Janet, a woman I knew from classes before.She’s lovely and was very disappointed that we are staying in dorms. “This is NOT a monastery!” She was right. We’re staying in the dorms on the University side of the campus. We will spend most of our time on the other side of campus where the monastery is.
After we unpacked and changed into what we all hoped was appropriate for “Vespers” we went to the chapel. Father Charles met us there and handed us a prayer binder, some papers, and instructions to sing quietly. There are about 18 students in my class, more girls than boys, and ranging in age from 20 to 60-something. We represent a variety of denominations, but nary a Catholic, which means that none of us will be able to receive communion tomorrow.
After our instructions, we sat in a large, absolutely gorgeous chapel. The monks (most of them dressed in black robes) entered the front of the church and took their seats in the transcepts. The service was very foreign to my protestant ears. Lots of chanting and back and forth singing of psalms. It was beautiful, but I was distracted trying to follow along. There were just a handful of monks there. 27 live here but 4 are bed-bound, several others are local priests and had responsibilities tonight, and another few are caring for sick mothers. They are all relatively old and commented that they are an aging group.
At dinner I sat with some students and got to know them better. I was overwhelmed and over stimulated. Dinner was bacon-wrapped chicken, fried rice, sweet potatoes, salad, juice, tea, water, rolls, and cake! They have cake. Isn’t that awesome?! It’s sorta like camp; lots of food options, a salad bar, and you need to bus your own table. ☺
After dinner we toured the monastery some and I began to think about what life would be like here. What are their living conditions like? Where do they sleep? Do they have their own rooms? Do they have pets? I hope to ask before the week is over. I won’t be allowed back where they live.
Before heading back to church for Compline, some friends and I started talking with Brother Kevin. He is a soft-spoken monk who has been living at St. Gregory’s since his junior year of high school. St. Gregory’s used to have a boarding high school on campus. Kevin is probably in his late 60s. He is absolutely remarkable. He takes care of the trees, but doesn’t do much with the flowers.
He likes the bigger stuff. He also is the mechanic on campus. He said that they have General Motors vans though and it’s sort of like being a Maytag repair man. He actually made that reference! Then he said that on his 2-3 week vacation he looks forward to riding his motorcycle around the country visiting friends! In the 70s he built his own motorcycle and the several abbots that have presided over the monastery have all let him keep riding. Can you imagine! He’s telling us all this in his full black habit! He has dirt under his fingernails like a mechanic and a twinkle in his eye that speaks for why he was sent to boarding school so many years ago!
Brother Kevin said that the thing he likes best about living here, the thing he is most passionate about, is physical labor. I cannot stop thinking about how his life could have been completely different had he not been sent to St. Gregory’s boarding school as a junior in high school. In another life, he would have been a mechanic in a small town doing landscaping on the weekends with a wife and some kids. The monastic life is not valued in our quick-paced society. People think more about what they would be giving up rather than all that they could gain. Kevin did not speak of the life he lost, he spoke of the joy he has.
My class assignment includes writing a 600-1000 word journal answering some questions. Unfortunately it’s a little too dry and I’m going to write my personal thoughts here everyday as well. It’s 9:37pm and I just finished. I’m thankful that I brought season 7 of Friends (I’m on my second time through the 10 seasons since March!) and I’m going to watch an episode or two before crashing. The alarm is going off at 5:10am. Vigils is at 6am, breakfast is at 6:35am (NO TALKING!) and Lauds is at 7:35am. Class doesn’t start until 8:30am, which will feel like noon, I’m sure!!
Monastery Day Two Monday, June 16, 2008
This morning my alarm went off at 5:10am. Not much sleep, I was up several times, but not bad. My room is a little chilly at night, but better too hot than too cold. It’s a little lonely without Sophie and Oliver. I’ll be glad when I am back home with my big bathtub, kitties, and carpeted floors. Off to Vigils at 6am, silent breakfast, and then lauds at 7:15am. Breakfast was oatmeal, toast, cereal, potatoes, fruit, juices, yogurt… I just stuck with oatmeal. ☺ I was struck by the fact that breakfast was silent. I thought about how many meals I’ve eaten alone in silence, but I’ve never eaten meals in silence AND community. The thing that struck me so much at breakfast was that Bootylicious was stuck in my head the whole time. I kept smiling at the thought of it. Sitting in silence. Sitting with monks. Eating lumpy oatmeal. Singing Bootylicious.
After breakfast I wandered for a while. It was absolutely gorgeous outside. It is cooler up here, at least in the morning. I sat on a porch swing near the graveyard and enjoyed the morning. The cemetery is quaint. Matching headstones. Graves dug by the monks. Brother Kevin digs the graves. One big tomb and a cross on a hill. I thought about rushing back to my room for This Day so that I could multi-task… Devote and relax. How silly is that. The community here moves slowly. There is no rush to anything. There is time to walk slowly. There is time to do one thing at a time. There is time to sit on a porch swing and just think. Tomorrow I’ll remember my devotional book and I think I’ll enjoy reading and praying in a Wesleyan way.
There’s much of this experience that reminds me of camp. Lack of sleep. Camp food. Community. A break from the real world. Complete disconnection from the world. I can’t imagine breakfast at Bridgeport in silence. But wouldn’t that be interesting? Sitting in silence. Enjoying company, but not taking advantage of it.
I wish there was a Wesleyan monastic life. I’d totally get on board with that. I like it here, but the chanting is foreign. The transubstantiation and closed table is isolating. I’d love Wesleyan prayer, community with intellects, and an open table. Perhaps it is because we are staying in the dorms, but there seems to be an element missing of personal prayer time. I went home last night and wrote my journal article, watched an episode of friends, and went to bed. And still only got about 6 hours of sleep. I’d love to have community prayer later and set time for personal prayer. Maybe in community, personal prayer is possible after time.
After a beautiful morning, lunch was refreshing. We were able to talk, which was fantastic because I sat next to a younger monk, Father Nicholas, and had the chance to ask him all sorts of questions. It was incredible. He has his masters degree in US History, he came to St. Gregory’s after his first year of his masters program. He went to school at the university here, so he was familiar with the monastery and knew that he could come back. He said that he would have come before he started his masters degree, but a girl got in the way. ☺ He has been here since 1989 and was wonderful. He answered my silly questions like ownership and pets. They have private ownership of everything that you would typically find in your bedroom. They have their own 10×8 foot rooms, their own clothing, etc. (They wear street clothing under their habits and when they work, etc.) They request budget funds each year and that is how they live. Any money they bring in as salaried professors or priests goes into the general monastic budget. It’s very communal and I love it. He told me that they don’t have pets that live inside because of the general care and upkeep. Pets are hard to care for in such a small space. He also said allergies need to be taken into consideration. I hadn’t thought of that. It was so nice to talk to someone about my specific and silly questions, but he did an fantastic job of explaining monastic life to me. He takes his 2 weeks vacation in several shorter trips and goes to Wichita, Kansas to visit family. They occasionally come down here to visit him as well. And we had cake with lunch. What could be better!
After lunch we met to take a tour of the learning development center. Father Paul has run this center for like 40 years. They see thousands of children and have a whole program to help children with learning and physical disabilities. We toured the facility, which includes a day care, classrooms, a gym with a pool, and stables. It is remarkable! I was blown away. He is so passionate about what he does. And incredibly humble! I remarked to classmates that it’s so nice that he has the ability to do what he loves and is passionate about without the church sucking his soul. Perhaps I’ve been jaded, but I think that those who are called to ministry can forget their calling in the midst of the mundane and stressful, taxing local church. Certainly not in every case, but there are so many who feel drained because of their service to the local church. I imagine this is the case in most jobs, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to be working in the same position for 40+ years with energy and joy? Father Paul has all of that. It is remarkable and gives me hope that finding a vocation and a way to achieve that is possible. Change agent Leanne Lindgren!
Our afternoon class time was spent with Father Charles. He answered all of our theological and practical questions for about 90 minutes before it was time to go to mass. Mass was gorgeous. Homily was less than a minute. ☺ None of us could receive the Eucharist, but we did that as a group, so it wasn’t too bad. After mass we went to dinner. There was a reading, but we ate in silence. Dinner wasn’t as good as some of the other meals, but we did have mashed potatoes, so I was happy. After dinner we had vespers and then met
Brother Kevin for a tour. We wandered around the campus and watched the storm get closer. After about 45 minutes, we finally made it to his shop where his motorcycle was. It was incredible!
They also had a greenhouse and turkeys and a beautiful garden. Our group got smaller and smaller as we walked, and by the end there were some fun, slap-happy friends. It was like 3am on a marathon night when the counselors all get together and giggle. It was lovely and full of joy.
We got back to the dorms about 8:45pm after our marathon wander. Monks don’t grumble or complain, but they do mosey and lollygag! Megan and I changed and headed out for a training walk in the rain. It was lovely! The rain was cold, but the air was still warm. The lightning made the walk interesting and entertaining. We talked about all things from the walk in November, our lives, and eschatology to jumpstart our journal entries for the evening. We got back about 9:30pm wet, but happy. I did my journaling about eschatology, watched from Friends, and settled in.
After some stress and anxiety, I finally fell asleep around midnight. I was so tired that I allowed some homesickness and longings crush me. Benedict was very clear that we should not grumble or complain. I kept thinking about what the monks would be doing in a situation where resentment is the easiest response. Do monks get overwhelmed? Do monks feel weary? Do monks feel as though they can never live up to expectations? The storms continued outside and in room 359. My alarm went off 5 hours later.
Monastery Day Three Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Due to lack of restful sleep and the food situation here, I woke with a stomachache. The rain continued. We ran through the downpour to Vigils just in time to have the lights go out. Momentary panic and they came back on. Tired and feeling ill, I was searching through the service for God. Where has my comfort gone? Where did the peace go? Where am I? My feelings lined themselves up nicely with the psalms we were praying. Interesting how that happens. ☺ Then we get to Psalm 139. Hello, God, how are you? My name is Leanne and sometimes I wander away and wonder where you are. I quickly realize that God is standing right behind me, right in front of me, or right beside me, even after I’ve wandered away.
Breakfast was quiet. I had toast and breathed deeply. Then Lauds. Lauds ends at about 7:45am and class starts at 8:30am. It’s STILL raining. I ran back to my dorm room, removed my wet clothing, and jumped into bed. I never did fall asleep, but mostly because I never did warm up! But I did have a nice rest time. I am desperately trying to let go of the stress, but am anxious because I know I am going to have to deal with some tough stuff when I get home. But the sun came out later in the day and sometimes it takes a little longer for the joy to come.
Class this morning was lovely. We discussed obedience and had some great discussions. It was fantastic. Dr. Schmidt and David, our TA are remarkable. We are able to share our feelings and this experience in a real and candid way. It’s nice to be able to go through this with others. Our group is small enough that we can have open discussions, but large enough that we have wide variety of opinions.
Lunch today was awesome. I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (I had to put a packet of jelly in my pocket from breakfast!) My stomach couldn’t handle the hamburgers that were being served. I sat with two lively monks, Brother Isidore and Father Patrick. One had just recently celebrated his 50th anniversary at the monastery and the other had been there about 25 years or so. They laughed and told us some very candid stories. We asked about practical jokes and heard some great ones. They wouldn’t share much with us, but it was clear that there are some funny monks! The best one I heard was when the younger monk, Isidore, said that as a novice he climbed the bell tower, stole a pigeon, and put it in the closet of one of the other novices. In his words, the pigeon cooed and “crapped” everywhere all night. To hear a monk say crap is amazing! Another prank they told us about was that they have life-sized statues of St. Gregory and St. Scholastica that find themselves in people’s beds and in scary places. This is obviously frightening and insanely funny.
They explained the dinner readings to us. Each night at dinner the reader monk reads from a book. The abbot chooses a book with the assistance of the librarian and the reader each week reads during dinner. They read intellectual books, autobiographies, and other interesting books. This week we heard “The Life You Save Might Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.”
We had a nice long break today of about 90 minutes between class and dinner tonight. I skipped mass because it’s optional after the first day because we cannot take communion. So I stayed in, did my journaling, and watched some Friends in bed. What a great idea bringing that was! Dinner was lovely. I had toast, which was good. Brother Isidore played his Native American flutes after dinner and told us all about them.
Then after Vespers he showed us back behind the sacricisty. He showed us the vestments and answered lots of our questions. He’s a brother, so he had a different perspective than the priests we have class with every afternoon. He told us that monks can drink and he likes to have a glass of wine with dinner every night. He also said he likes to go to the bar in his habit and drink Manhattans. He’s from Long Island and is so funny!
Megan and I went for a nice walk this evening. It was lovely and thankfully still light out when we left! On our way back, we entered the main building on campus to see how high we could get on the inside. We got really high! When we got back to the dorms, Brother George was there and said he could take us even higher. Turns out he didn’t know how to get higher than we went, but that time I brought my camera! It was remarkable. I got some fantastic pictures before heading back to the dorm for some fellowship, a shower, and bed. A large part of this experience is the fellowship and community we are fostering as a class. I am getting to know people that I knew from classes on campus, smiled at in the hall, or never saw before. We are sharing a unique experience and even just a few days into it, I can feel us being knit together.
Monastery Day Four Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I had a wonderful night’s sleep last night. It was the first night here that I’ve slept solid without waking. The alarm went off at 5:10am and I was filled with two feelings: excitement that I hadn’t woken through the night (the whole 5 hours!) and dread that I had to get out of bed! I stayed up late catching up with Julie, which was much needed. This morning we went to church and then breakfast. I finally found the instant oatmeal, which is awesome. They have oatmeal prepared already, but it is not sweet. So I had brown sugar oatmeal and a piece of toast.
On our way to Vigils this morning, my friend Linda asked me about the end of my relationship. She started with us last fall, but had to take the spring semester off due to health reasons. I laughed and asked if she has sensed the tension between us when she’d been back to visit in the fall. She looked off and said very slowly, “No.” Long pause. “I felt the…space.” I was struck by that and will continue to process over the day.
In the midst of all of our praying and church activities here, I have put This Day on the shelf until this morning. I brought it out between breakfast and Lauds and went to one of the side chapels to pray. I sat on a bench and began to read. In the midst of such a beautiful and holy space, I was distracted. I am used to sitting cross-legged on the floor. So I picked up my bible and sat on the floor. Perhaps not the most pious thing I could have done, but that is part of my daily prayer life. I was flooded with the most calming sense of coming home. More than any
other time here, I felt the close presence of God with me on the floor. As I finished up my prayers, I slid back into my pew for Lauds. That service has more singing than Vigils and has a tendency to lull me to sleep after a nice breakfast. I struggle to keep my eyes open and stay focused on the psalms.
The sky opened up just as Lauds was ending and I ran back to the room in the rain. After the run, took off my wet clothing and jumped back into bed for a quick nap. I drifted in and out of sleep for about 40 minutes before my alarm woke me again. Perhaps this sounds lazy to those of you who do not have the opportunity to rest even before 9am. It was not lazy, it was necessary. We all napped periodically throughout the day. There is so much to process that I need to retreat some and just get in bed. There aren’t very many places to go, but bed is always there. A quick 30-minute nap helps me get through the rest of the day by providing some solace.
Morning class time was fine. Mid-day prayers were nice. Lunch was yummy cheese tortellini. The meals have not been very vegetarian friendly and while not a vegetarian, I do not tend to eat much meat, particularly the way it can be mass-produced in this sort of setting. So this was a nice break. After lunch I went over to the museum on campus. It has very eclectic art ranging from very contemporary modern photos to mummified cats.
Afternoon class time was fine. After asking all that we could of Father Charles, we met Father Louis. He was incredibly candid with his stories. He was very honest with us about his life. At one point, someone from our class asked him if he ever had the desire to marry. He smiled and said, “Not in the past 20 minutes!” It was awesome. He said that being here has been a blessing for him because he said he probably would have been married 6 times or so. Before meeting the monks here, I’d never think about them having the desire to marry. Of course they fight that, though!
After class, we had some time to relax and process. I watched an episode of Friends and took a 30 minute nap before dinner. Dinner was PB&J for me. ☺ After the monks left dinner, I chatted with Megan and Kyle about Wesleyan tradition and the state of the UMC. We all feel passionate about making changes to the local church. It was a divine conversation that I know occurred because we were here. I am excited to see the fruit that comes from that time.
Evening vespers was nice. Afterwards, Megan, Kyle, and I took a nice long walk into town. We walked to Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and then walked back. About 4.4 miles. The conversation was great and the activity was needed. I got back and talked with a few women about the Breast Cancer 3-day. I have found at least one more recruit for the Rack Pack! ☺
After a shower, a quick conversation with Courtney, writing my journal, and an episode of Friends, I finally went to sleep about 11:30pm. The days are long and very full. I’m not sure if my schedule reflects that, but we are always doing something while simultaneously trying to process this incredible experience and maintain a community as a class. I am trying to take full advantage of being here by fully participating in the activities and getting to know both my classmates and the monks. But days of getting up at 5am force me to take 30 minute naps during the day whenever possible just to get through the day without being a crab. ☺ Taking that time for myself helps me to be more fully present when I am awake.
Monastery Day Five Thursday, June 19, 2008
This morning started much like yesterday. Vigils, breakfast of oatmeal, quiet reading of This Day in a side chapel, and Lauds. Again I felt the presence of God with me in the side chapel as I read the comforting words of the prayers and lectionary texts. The devotional really spoke to me today. I’ve been processing my feelings about justice. I feel passionate about justice and standing up for what is right. However, I have discovered that I do not stand up for myself when something is happening to me or around me that is wrong. I can link this to my up-bringing, but that is really neither here or there. I am trying to learn how to stand up for myself. It is not a self confidence issue. I KNOW that I do not deserve poor treatment. However, I am conscious of reasons that would make disrespect somewhat viable. To anyone else, I’d fight. For myself, I’ve been unable, thinking that there is always a justifiable reason for disrespect. What crap. This I will take home with me. My prayer is that I can continue to grow stronger and learn how to stand up for myself and what I believe in without fear of being rebuked or embarrassed.
After Lauds, I took my favorite nap of the day. Having just 30 minutes before class, we all go back and get back in bed. It was lovely to have just a few more minutes of sleep. At camp this would seem lazy and reclusive. Here, it is all but necessary. After my quick, but wonderful nap, we had our last official class session. Then it was off to mid-day prayers. Janet and I were a little bit late and missed about half of the 10 minute prayer time. After mid-day prayers we went to lunch; the only meal of the day where we can talk to the monks…where we can talk at all. It was interesting. I was somewhat distracted with home, but focused on the funny stories Brother Isidore shared with us. I ate peanut butter and jelly. I’m about ready to eat something besides peanut butter and jelly!
Some of the monks really gravitate to us. They do not get visitors like us much and some of them really enjoy us and make that known by spending as much time with us as possible. Obviously the monastic life tends to attract introverts. Many of the monks are blatantly introverted. They are hospitable by rule, but there is an underlying understanding that we are somewhat imposing houseguests. While they all seem to love having us, we are invading their space. Visiting friends and family are wonderful for a time, but it is also wonderful when they leave. We are visiting friends that don’t know the songs, talk a little too loud, drop our binders during prayers, and eat slowly. For other monks, they are either naturally extroverted, or they have become more extroverted by the grace of God, according to Brother Kevin. Those monks gravitate to us. They chat during lunch for more than 10 minutes. (Monks eat fast!) They come back after dinner to talk more. They hang around us. They are my friends.
After class we had our last class with Father Charles. He opened class sharing with us saying of the desert fathers and mothers. Desert Fathers and Mothers were thought to be the first monastic communities. Some of the sayings that really stuck with me from his presentation are:
Be silent and do not measure yourself against the others.
Don’t wallow in guilt but recognize God’s mercy.
Teach your mouth to speak what is in your heart.
Rejoice always, pray constantly, and in all circumstances give thanks.
The plot twists and turns can be difficult but we have read the end of the book.
God has not left you.
If I wasn’t able to fall in love, I would be a miserable person.
Where was the call in all of that? All the way along.
It’s the moments when I get surprised out of my bitching.
Okay so that last one was Father Charles opening up to us, but the others are absolutely incredible. I am contemplating going to Hobby Lobby when I get home to make some kind of pretty things out of scrapbook stuff to frame with the sayings on them. After the presentation on the desert fathers, we had time to ask Father Charles questions. We’d been asking him questions for 4 days, but this was different. We got deeper. We discussed the monastic view of death and the eschatology behind their view of death. They are not frightened of death nor do they waste much time mourning over brothers and fathers who have passed on. Father Charles made us all tear up when he shared a story of a brother who got cancer and after years of fighting, asked to come home to die. His casket was made and they had a service of branding it. He continued to come to the offices. On Good Friday he collapsed in the chapel during the psalms. They brought him back to his room and did Compline in his room that night. He was gone on Holy Saturday. Easter took on a whole new meaning that year and continues to. Their community models so much the life of Christ. In order to emphasize the holiness of life, we need to recognize the sanctity of death. While we understand that with Jesus’ life as a model, it is much more difficult to do, it is a huge challenge for my anxiety. Thinking about my own death doesn’t scare me, but it does make me want to make more of it while I’m here. Acknowledging that I will die someday forces me to recognize that others will die as well, which makes me sad and makes me want to spend as much time as possible with those that I love. This simply isn’t practical. But the discussion did make me re-evaluate my life in regards to eschatology and death.
Father Charles also shared a very interested story of him falling in love. I’d heard that he had a good story, but I assume that it was when he was younger. He is now easily 70. He said not too many years ago, he fell in love with a woman who would come to mass at the abbey. She had a beautiful voice and he asked her to sing with him to lead the songs. Through that, they discussed life and theology and had much in common. They fell in love and he gave his vows considerably thought. Finally he thought that he could not give up his vows at the monastery. He would not only be breaking his word, but letting down the community. He loved her, but he could not give up his life at St. Gregory’s. How powerful it was to hear his candidness. It was a very powerful time. We shared some of our own experiences.
After class I went back to the room and did my journaling, took a short nap, and started packing. I’ve become accustomed to skipping Mass, so I had some extra time. Dinner is after Mass. I really like dinner. We can’t talk until the monks leave, but they often come back in to visit with us after they leave. We listened to the wonderful book and had a good dinner. It dawned on me that after the first day, we’ve gotten much better at silence. The first day our silent meals were somewhat awkward. By now we are better at being quiet and enjoying our meals without giggling each time someone klanks silverware. Dinner led into Vespers. After Vespers we went with Brother Kevin to see his motorcycle and take pictures. It was so fun! He is incredible. Joy shines through his eyes. He is compassionate, kind, and simple in only the most beautiful definition of the word. His motorcycle, Recycled Grace, is a hoot! He also let me take an aluminum sign that says “Reserved Abbey Parking.” It’s an engagement ring, I’m quite certain! I cannot wait to hang it up in my apartment! I should get my Yardley license plate back to hang with it…
We went back to the dorms at about 8pm and chatted with some folks. We collected money for Dr. Schmidt because Friday is his birthday. Megan, Kyle and I were going for a walk so we offered to go to Starbucks to get him a giftcard and some coffee beans. We thought it was about 2 miles away, which is what we had planned anyway. Turns out, it was 3.5 miles away… It started to rain, we almost got attacked by a herd of wild dogs and a frog, and had an incredible time. It took about 2 hours and we went almost 7 miles, but it was such fun. We talked about everything and solved most of the worlds problems. The walk back was a little scary because it was very dark and there aren’t sidewalks. I got bit by about 400 bugs, but it was more than worth it. This experience has shaped me as an individual unlike any other that I’ve experienced. However, without dear friends like Kyle and Megan, this experience could not have been possible. I am so thankful for a new group of folks to be in community with. I’d like to say that they are part of my cloud of witnesses, but some people think that those witnesses are only dead… That’s the only image I can think of right now. Megan and Kyle and Janet and all the rest are forever apart of my cloud of witnesses. And I am honored to be part of theirs. We are all rolling around together in a large rock-tumbler!
I took a nice long shower after our walk, finished my journals, and went to bed. Last night at St. Gregory’s! I’m very sad…
Monastery Day Six Friday, June 20, 2008
My alarm went off this morning and I was sad. I am not ready to leave this place yet. I miss my cats desperately, but I love it here. We went to Vigils and I started getting sadder. Breakfast was fast. The monks left very quickly so we chatted at the tables, denying that we would be leaving. Lauds was sad. We packed up our binders because we wouldn’t be coming back to the chapel. What a wonderful week. I’ve grown to love the chanting and the liturgy. I love the rituals. I’m not a Catholic, but I can understand now why someone would be attracted to this life. I hope to incorporate the psalms into my daily prayer life back home.
I stayed in the chapel after everyone cleared out to get some pictures. It was such a beautiful space; the pictures do not capture the majesty. I lit a candle and prayed for a while before it was time to go to class. Class was wonderful. We sat in a circle and had time to process with Dr. Schmidt, David, and Father Charles. We shared our feelings and appreciation. We laughed and cried. It was moving. This has been such a wonderful experience. I cannot begin to put into words the impact that this week has had on me. The peace that I’ve experienced here is palpable. The genuine community that I’ve experience gives me hope for the church. I’d begun to wonder if genuine, inclusive community was actually possible. I’ve encountered many exclusive communities within and outside of the church. I’ve been discouraged that a true fellowship of believers was not actually possible. This week proved otherwise. Not only were the monks hospitable to us by inviting us into their community and allowing us to live among them for this week, but they taught us how to cultivate authentic community as a class.
In my daily life I have discovered the defense mechanism of repression. This technique is relatively new to me. Living in community does not allow for repression. Listening to my classmates share their experiences living the monastic life mirrored my own so closely. The things that they felt, processed, wrestled with, and ignored was very similar to my own experiences. In addition, although we were removed from our daily lives, we were not living within a vacuum. We spent the first few days trying to find balance between our daily lives that we’d left behind and the new life we were experiencing. By the end of the week we were anxious about how we were going to come back into our normal lives as completely changed people. David warned us that it would not be easy. I already feel that it is not.
Janet, Gillian, Rachel, and I packed up and headed home about 10:30am. We didn’t take the scenic route home and ended up hitting some traffic, stopped for lunch, and listened to the Sound of Music. I got home around 4pm.
Reality hit. I unpacked. I cuddled Sophie and Oliver some. I vacuumed and did laundry. I realized that the free wireless I’ve been “borrowing” has disappeared. I thought about going for a walk, but it is so stinking hot that I didn’t. My feet still hurt from the 7 mile hike last night! I showered up and got ready to babysit. I feel weird being back here. I do not want to lose the things that I learned but cannot completely retreat from my life.