Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A weekend with Monks

I have experienced the Lord and being with the people of God in a lot of different places, countries, and cultures.  A small church in some obscure town in Tunisia, the villages of Guatemala, a small group on a farm in remote Indonesia, with the homeless in Los Angeles, in the mountains of Peru, and now this past weekend with monks at a monastery in the Ozarks in Eastern Oklahoma.

I went with a group of 5 guys; I only know one of them well. All of us have an interest in the ancient church and learning the rhythms of those who have walked with the Lord for many years.  My friend Brandon heard of Clearcreek Monastery and that is where we made our pilgrimage.  The monks are Benedictine and follow the Benedictine rule that was formed in the 500's A.D.  You can read about that rule here.  They pray through the whole Psalter each week. They start with prayer at 5:15 each morning and have 8 or so daily offices which include a low mass which is done silently and the high mass.  Besides the times of prayer, they also spend each day studying and working.  Their schedule is set for them every day and they do this day after day, year after year.  It is a commitment for their lifetime, although they can leave. 

All of the prayers are done in Latin and they also use Gregorian Chants. It is very beautiful.  They do welcome guests and we were able to sit in the back and participate in the prayers. There were books that had Latin and English so we could see what they were saying.

Often, we would do a prayer time, have a short break and then join them for the next prayer time. We also got to eat our meals with them which were done in silence. That took us awhile to get the hang of, as Brandon and I were talking a little too much in the first breakfast and one of the monks had to remind us that it needed to be silent.  Their meals are very simple and they eat a lot of hardy bread. They grow their own vegetables and try to be as self-sufficient as they can.  Breakfast was in total silence and the monks stand while they eat.  But during lunch and dinner, they do some prayers and then have a reading from the Scriptures, or church history, or another book.  At times it was hard for us to keep a straight face as the readings seemed funny done in a Gregorian chant.  

For me, the best thing was the silence and a lack of distractions. No internet, no sports, no pressures from ministry, just time to focus on the Lord.  I had to work hard at keeping my mind focused, but every time my mind wandered, I would focus my thoughts back on God. During the prayer times, you are either standing up or sitting down, or bowing down so there is enough engagement to keep you focused.

As evangelicals we can learn from the rigors of these monks.  Our American spirituality is so individualistic and self-centered.  It is all about our own quiet time.  We seldom do something similar to another believer unless we are going through some book that our church selects. But the monks pray the same prayers and read the same Scriptures daily.  There is nothing individualistic about it.  It was refreshing to witness it and experience it for a weekend.   The value is on the shared experience rather that what I personally get out of it.

As I continually grow in my walk with Christ, I am drawn to the ancient streams, to the daily rhythms done by Christians for centuries. I have such a long way to go, so rather than reading the latest book or the latest spiritual nugget that is being offered, I am choosing to learn from the saints who have lived centuries ago and followed Jesus in a deep way.

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