Saturday, July 14, 2007

Two Weeks at a Contemplative Abbey

Monastic Musings: Two Weeks at a Contemplative Abbey

Some of my colleagues at work, and some of the sisters in my own community, wonder why I choose to spend so much of my vacation inside the cloister with a traditional community. There is no simple answer, but a short one might be: thelife they lead, and the spirituality behind it, has elements that we desperately need to cultivate in our modern lives - inside or outside the monastery. There is no way to learn or experience them except to go where they are lived and blend in with the culture of the community.What sorts of things do I mean?

Comfort with silence, for one. The Rule of Benedict prefers silence to idle chatter, prescribes table reading rather than conversation at meals, and defines a grand silence after Compline at night. While active monasteries like my own have silence in the morning and at other specified times, it is the exception. When we work together, we often talk to pass the time. In the evening, TVs and radios play - sometimes with just one person listening. At the Abbey, there is a natural comfort of moving in and out of silence - speaking when needed to complete the work or to encourage one another interspersed with a comfortable silence. In the early morning and the evening, the deep quiet encourages reflection, or doing work in a contemplative way, or reading: not passive entertainment.

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