This week, Drew Hyun and I went up to Spencer, MA to spend time in prayer and reflection with the monks at St. Abbey's monastery. The Cistercian order (or Trappists) is a monastic order known to many because of the writings and ministry of Thomas Merton. We joined the 70 or so monks for four days and below are my journal entries of my experience. I feel like I'm a perpetual beginner when it comes to prayer. Maybe that's not a bad thing. I hope these entries can connect with you on some level and get you to think on what it means to be a contemplative and follow Jesus in our world today.
3/23/09 @ St. Abbey's Monastery. 5pm:
Today, Drew and I drove to St. Abbey's to rest and enjoy God's presence. As we walked into the retreat house (which was beautifully constructed), I felt at home. The first thing I recognized was the warmth of the building. The temperature was perfect, especially in light of a cold and windy afternoon. For some reason I expected to be in a cold, dark room with mice running around. We met the Guest Master (a man named Joseph who was in his 70's) and he showed us to our rooms. Drew is in St. Peter's room. I'm in St. Paul's. I like to think that I'm like Paul sometimes. At least I imagine myself to be. The room is perfectly spacious for me, with brick walls and a bathroom that looks like a Home Depot model (at least the shower). Small, but quaint. Joseph gave us a brief tour of the house and it is so beautiful. So quiet. So serene. When Drew asked about what we should be doing when we get to the times of prayer, Joseph gave us simple instructions. "Follow and Listen." I hope to live out those instructions well over the next four days. Follow and listen to God's spirit directing me. I miss Rosie already.
Well, it's about 5:30pm. Time to go to Vespers to observe the office.
3/23/09 @ 6:30pm
Vespers was a great office. As the bell rang, I followed the father (monk) and the other retreatants (7 others) on a single-file line. We walked across the building, through the kitchen and dining rooms into the visitors chapel. The chapel is beautiful. Dark brown wooden ceilings, brick walls. Simple, yet awesome. The monks walked in and then there were readings. Before that however, as we walked into the chapel, I saw people placing their hand/fingers in something. Not knowing what it was (and not wanting to stand out), I place my hand, almost my entire hand into what they called holy water. At this time, I thought, "what in the world am I doing?!" It was pretty funny how I can go with the flow and not have a clue what I'm doing. We followed the readings as the monks chanted scripture with a fullness and rhythm. Then they chanted the Lord's prayer (Our Father, which art in heaven...). That was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard.
3/23/09 @ 8:30pm
Compline (the last office of the day) began at 7:40pm. After a great hour nap, I got up and followed the monks (although I was late and had to find my way to the chapel). I almost got lost. That would NOT have been a good thing! As I walked in, the lights were dim, and then, after sitting down, it went pitch black, except for the little light that the monk read scripture from. They chanted while one of them played an acoustic guitar. At first, I was very self-conscious and anxious. What do I read? How do I know what to do next? When is this over? Then I remembered the words of Joseph the Guest Master. "Follow and Listen." In the darkness, I listened and heard the word of God proclaimed. Then one monk prayed something to the effect of "Lord, give us rest tonight from all the work we have done today." There was a surrendering of the day to the Lord at 8pm! That's when the night usually begins for me! The atmosphere was full of peace. Anxiety and worry were no where to be found. We did all we could today. I then got on line to leave and one of the fathers sprayed me with holy water. Definitely not expecting that! But it was all good. I'm gonna call Rosie now, eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and read a bit. Next office is the Vigil at 3:30am!
(Please stay tuned for more of my journal entries).
3/24/09 @ 4:15am. In my room.
I woke up at 3:15am this morning. I got bed at 10:30 last night. Haven't got to bed at that time in a while. I feel surprisingly refreshed. I know some of this can be attributed to adrenaline. I threw on my wind breaker pants and jacket, washed my face and left. I walked over to the visitors chapel with Drew. We had to walk outside to get there. It was very cold! As we sat in the chapel at 3:30am the bells rang. One of the monks, in a deep, raspy (almost scary) voice read from Psalms. I believe it was Psalm 73. The monks responded antiphonally. Another monk got up and read Romans 9:6-15 in a clear, articulate (almost like a guy who would be a Christian radio host) voice. There was then a reading from Hebrews 8:1-13. Then a reading from St. Augustine on his commentary on the Psalms. That was a very moving reading. I'm back in my room now and I'm enjoying the silence. I'm gonna read from Merton now.
Lord, I offer you my day. May my mind and heart remember you. May I love you in all your goodness.
James Finley on Thomas Merton in his book "Merton's Palace of Nowhere"
"Merton leads us along the journey to God in which the self that begins the journey is not the self that arrives. The self that begins is the self that we thought ourselves to be. It is this self that dies along the way, until in the end, "no one" is left. This "no one" is our true self. It is the self that stand prior to all that is this or that. It is the self in God, the self bigger than death, yet born of death. It is the self the Father loves forever." pg 17
3/24/09 @ 5:30am
As I sit here and read, thoughts of super-piety rush to my mind. But it is the piety that wants people to "recognize" a difference in me. I want them to see me with a "glow" without me having to say anything. Kinda like a Bruce Leroy glow! Well, maybe not like Bruce Leroy. Then I realize that my false self is asserting itself again. There are times when I am content with hiddenness. Then there are time when I long for notoriety. For praise. For affirmation. For people to put me on their shoulders like Rudy. But Lord, help me to recognize that my deepest desire is that I would be found in you.
Another quote from Finley on Merton:
Here, Merton equates sin with the identity-giving structures of the false self. This in itself is significant. The focus of sin is shifted from the realm of morality to that of ontology. For Merton, the matter of who we are always precedes what we do. Thus sin, is not essentially an action, but rather an identity. Sin is a fundamental stance of wanting to be what we are not. Sin is thus an orientation to falsity, a basic lie concerning our own deepest reality. Likewise, inversely, to turn away from sin is, above all, to turn away from a tragic case of mistaken identity concerning our own selves."
3/24/09 @ 9:50am
Just finished a conference with father Robert. He was a tall, bald man who resembled Darth Vader (when Luke takes his mask off, except with out the scars). He wore the customary Trappist black and white outfit with a pair of combat looking boots. He was a light-hearted man with a winsome personality. He had to be in his low 70's. He spoke from John 5. Story about the man near the pool of Bethsaida. He said so many profound things. I wish I had a notepad. Basically he highlighted the event as an event with Jesus. For father Robert, that's exciting all by itself. For father Robert, the miracle was not the healing of the man after 38 years of illness. The miracle is the earthiness of Jesus' intentionality to be in relationship with this person. Fr. Robert then mentioned that after Jesus heals him, he tells him not to sin anymore. Fr. Robert mentioned that that statement seemed to be paradoxical. How could the man have sinned? He's been cripple for 38 years. He said the clue to understanding this lies in the response that he gave to Jesus when Jesus asked if he wanted to get well. The man basically responded "every time the angel stirs the water someone gets in my way!" The man totally missed Jesus' question. Fr. Robert continued by saying the man was a complainer, a grumbler, a critic. These sins had the potential to keep him lame even after he was physically healed. Fr. Robert then spoke of success, and that the mark of success is not what we do, but our love relationship with the Father. Great stuff!
The unceasing question in my mind as I reflect is, what am I or rather, how am I to live in NYC?
(More entries to come)