Friday, June 11, 2010

On Monks and Monasteries

I took a trip with Anita to a special place in my memory. Many moons ago I left my hometown in search of an education. I ended up at a college, in central Minnesota, run by monks. That simple decision began to open up the world to me.

We stayed in the Abbey Guesthouse and luxuriated in simple Benedictine hospitality. During our visit we walked into the church with a monk who had long hair and a beard, looking much like an ageing rock and roller. He looked strangely familiar. I introduced myself and inquired whether or not we knew each other from our college days. He said: “If we did we probably got drunk together.”

At college I studied some, partied some, learned a fair amount but also squandered opportunities. It’s a story not unlike some of yours I’m sure. The monk certainly was alluding to a past that led to his present reality. Although I doubt I ever drank with this monk I certainly might have ‘smoked’ with him in an early 70’s kind of way. Such was my mindset and practice in those days.

It’s interesting that my fellow partier is now a member of a monastic community and I have spent years and years in full time ministry. Out of the ashes of misspent youth comes clarity of soul and purpose I suppose and/or perhaps penitence for wrongs done and opportunities ignored. Clarity and penitence seems to be compatible and necessary bedfellows.

For four days Anita and I prayed with the monks at least once a day, sometimes twice. We began looking forward to the prayer rhythm and the reminders it provided.

Many of the monks I knew well are now dead. They are buried in the monastic cemetery overlooking the lake called Sagatagan. Other monks looked vaguely familiar but time has blurred my memory and matured once youthful faces. Looking for the ‘young monks’ I once knew was somewhat an exercise in futility. Those once young have become the elders. Even so, I recognized a few. Two were classmates. One, still a bit rude and aloof. The other, known for scandalous sin. I saw a professor or two who taught with both excellence and Godliness.

In my evangelical tradition monks are celebrated more and more. They represent a lack of ‘hurry’ and spiritual discipline. I believe that is true. At times, they are made to be more than they are. If truth be know they are not unlike us. Monasteries have their saints and sinners, introverts and extroverts. Monk can be all those things that we on the outside still are.

As I sat in the choir loft praying on our last day I felt myself thankful for this monastery. I am part of their legacy I suppose. They have created deep memories and treasure in me. Since the mid 1800’s they have tilled the soil and educated young minds. I am thankful for their faithfulness, their eccentricities, and their giftedness. And I am thankful that despite their individual pasts and sometimes haunting sinfulness that they come to be shaped and transformed, in and through their community, by the living God.

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