April 15, 2014
M is for…
…monastery. Technically St. Andrew’s is an abbey—the main difference is that an abbey is sort of a grownup monastery—but that’s neither here nor there.
I’m here because it’s Holy Week. I’m here because I study Benedictine spirituality (modeled after St. Benedict’s Rule of Life). I’m here because I need to get my head back around silence and solitude again. I’m here because it’s good for me to shut up and listen sometimes. I’m here because 2014 has been fraught with transition. I’m here because the word that chose me for 2014 is “surrender.” I’m here because I basically ditched Lent this year and need to salvage some sense of it before Easter arrives, to redeem the time.
When you go on an undirected (or semi-directed) retreat such as this one, you are invited—though never required—to experience the life of the hours, the life the monks lead as they proceed through the services of the day. At this abbey, that looks like this:
- Vigils—6:00 a.m. (I never make it)
- Lauds—7:30 a.m. (questionable—certainly not this morning)
- Breakfast (in silence)—8:00 a.m. (must…have…coffee, must linger in the light-filled refectory)
- The Grand Silence ends—8:30 a.m. (unless you’re on a silent retreat)
- Mass (basically Sunday church service with Holy Communion)—noon
- Lunch—1:00 p.m. (never miss it)
- Vespers—5:00 or 6:00 p.m. (depending on the week and the monks’ schedules)
- Dinner—6:-00 or 7:00 p.m. (always simple but always good)
- Compline or Vigils—8:30 p.m. (last night it was the adoration of the sacrament—a first for me)
- The Grand Silence begins—9:00 p.m.
In between those services, the monks do their work, onsite or offsite, everything from kitchen management to business administration, to running the pottery business to counseling and spiritual direction, to presiding over memorial services to planting trees or servicing lawnmowers.
During services, these monks are good about sitting in silence, settling, allowing the words and songs and meditations to integrate—much like shavasana (the corpse pose) is held for at least ten minutes at the end of a yoga practice to integrate the medicine of the practice. I appreciate these men’s patience.
I usually try to “live the life” for at least the first day I’m here. In between those services, I am about my own work of reading, writing, hiking, sitting, meditating, photographing, praying. Given last night’s late-night moon-viewing hike to the monks’ graveyard up on the hill, today part of my work was napping—a full hour and a half, and I didn’t move once.
I awoke, refreshed, to study the shifted light, my eyes seizing on the movements of the lizards that had come out for sunwarmth therapy, of the quail family scurrying and grazing. Think the desert is dry and barren and lifeless? Think again. The natural world here speaks to all of my senses. An owl hoo-hoo-ing in the distance last night as we beheld the lunar eclipse in no small awe in the graveyard, surreal clouds illuminated by distant city glow from the other side of the mountain range. Crickets in ceaseless strumming, frogs in pond-themed call and response, as ducks grumble and yap in competition for the best sleeping or bread-gobbling spots. The multiple species of blue jays and the house wrens all providing flashes of welcomed color in this desert mountainside, the doves providing welcomed song.
The wind, the pneuma, the breath, the spirit blowing the leaves of the poplars, the Japanese maples, the sycamores, the lilacs, the wisteria, the stalks of irises and rosebush vines—both audible and skin-sensory. And the cottonwood seeds flurry and blow and drift like light spring snow.