Contemplative Life

Another reflection from Monastic Immersion Weekend

My Monastic Immersion Weekend at Holy Cross Abbey began in earnest with Vigils. Three o’clock in the morning is early. Nah, it’s not even morning yet. I’m not used to what this hour looks like and I’m definitely not used to being functional at this hour. And that’s the point (in part.) My usual defenses are still asleep and not available. I roust myself from bed at the sound of the bell and dress for the half mile walk to Chapel.

Vigils is at 3:30. The bell rings and we begin. I quickly discover how difficult it is to read Psalms slowly, in unison, and in the proper order when it’s “my side’s” turn to read. Sometimes I mess up the word order. Other times I read the first line of a stanza and stop. I am quickly learning experientially something I’ve known about myself for awhile—I concentrate only so much but then let my attention wander. This lack of focus does not work when reading very deliberately the correct stanzas of Psalms at 3:30 am in unison with 15 other people and in response to a like number on the other side of choir. Soon, though, I manage to focus well enough to begin experiencing individual words and phrases. There is space around these words. Soon that space fills, not with the horrors and terrors and sins of David or the Israelites but the horrors and terrors of my sins and those around me. Thankfully, those same spaces also fill up with God’s promises. As I realize this I’m quickly thrown off the unison thing again. Wow, this is much more difficult that I had ever imagined.

Fortunately, Vigils is followed by a half hour of silence. So I sit in chapel and silently ask God, “What just happened? What should I know from these readings?” The weekend continued with several similar lessons.

Why did I sign up for this? I’ve had an interest in monastic theology for many years. This is the first time I’ve really had the opportunity to test this interest at an experiential level. I’ve known for a long time, of course, that I am not called to a cloistered life. At the same time, this weekend allowed me to affirm that I am called to the challenge of living the challenge of the prayer – work – study balance in the secular world. So, I tried to observe everything. What are the monks like? What do their faces tell me? Their demeanor? How and when they arrive at Office? What does their prayer – work – study balance look like? How does this matter in my daily life? I realized that much of my daily prayer using Scripture was without real focus. So, I’ve slowed down and “do” less. By “doing” less I’m available for “more”. I expect other changes as well in the next few weeks.

This MIW weekend was a big success for me. It will take me awhile to process it all and I definitely want to participate again. I very much appreciate Holy Cross Abbey offering this opportunity and welcoming me with open arms.

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