Lessons from a monastery: Introduction

Posted on September 13, 2013

The valley is silent, except for my feet, which are crunching the dirt underneath. I walk up the road. Red marbled rock cliffs tower to the right and to the left, just beyond the softly flowing river. At 8,000-foot elevation, the air is thin, but it is clean and crisp. I suck it in, walk, and then … a bell. The church bell. It clangs in the distance. A call to prayer. Ten minutes until worship. The adobe chapel is now before me. The large wooden door is open. It whispers, ‘Come, join us, anyone who longs for silence and prayer and connection to God.’ I sit in a wooden chair, pulling out the choir book from the cubby behind. The chapel is simple, in the shape of a cross, but it’s elegant, too, with high windows that reveal cascading rock cliffs nearby. I can make out, way at the top, a white cross… placed there… Who knows when? For forty years monks have been praying in this place. I see them trickle into the chapel from behind the tabernacle. With black robes flowing, they bow twice – once toward the tabernacle and once toward the altar – that large stone table, in the middle of the room. They take a seat in silence.

And then the Gregorian chant-song begins. Prayer. God is here. God is everywhere. But right now, I am here, and I know God is too.

My week at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert – a Benedictine monastery in the mountains of Abiquiu, New Mexico which is the home to 35 Catholic monks – was unlike any other week in my 26 years of life. ‘Spiritual retreat’ took on a whole new dimension. My classmates and I drove 14 hours to get to the wilderness so we could learn how to pray from these monks. We connected with the saints throughout history who have left for the wilderness because their souls required it. God had a work to do in them. And God had a work to do in us.

I believe there are aspects from the trip that I have learned but I have not yet realized I learned. Some of the things I witnessed will take root in me at a later time, will mean something different as I am continually transformed. But there are a few things to which my heart has already been opened.

In the next three days I will share three of the most important lessons I took away from that experience. Though I took the trip to New Mexico in May, its impact has remained. I hope you enjoy the photos. And though you may not get an opportunity to spend a week at a monastery, I hope you can get a taste of it through my writing.

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