Monday, August 11, 2008

Monks Got Rhythm!

A recent visit to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia ( ) for a few days of prayer and reflection reminded me of an important fact. The Benedictine monks gathered in community there have a real rhythm to their life that is centered on prayer and meditation. I do not anticipate a leap for myself from being a Southern Baptist to Roman Catholic! Plus, I am married and like that arrangement very much. However, I was taken by how the monks have arranged their lives in order to have time for the important issues of life. In a world where we often complain of great busyness and lack of time, there is something important to be learned from the monks.

At the monastery, the monks arise in the morning at 3:45 a.m. Shortly afterward, at 4:00 a.m., they gather for morning prayers. This takes place in their church, where the monks engage in chanting a variety of Psalms--developed by St. Benedict in the six century--Scripture readings and the singing of songs. During this period are three thirty minute quiet meditations interspersed with the Psalms, Scripture reading and songs.

The monks gather again at 7:00 a.m. for Mass. I noticed that along with retreatants--those on spiritual retreats at the monastery guest house--there are several people from the community that attend the mass. After mass, it is time for breakfast.

Breakfast is quite simple. They feed the retreatants just as they do the monks. The meal consists of simple cereals, fruit and perhaps a boiled egg.

After breakfast, the monks engage in a time of Scripture study along with their morning work. In Conyers, the monks do a variety of jobs from raising beef cows to working with stained glass to baking to jewelry making to working in the book store to raising bonsai trees. The monks work together and even the Abbot--leader of the monastery--work alongside the others.

Before lunch, there is midday prayers at 12:00 p.m. A short time of reading Psalms along with a short period of reflection. Then it is off to the "big" mean of the day. A meat or soup is served along with vegetables and bread.

The afternoon is a time for a brief scripture lesson or perhaps time for "lectio divina" which is latin for holy reading. Then off to work again.

At 5:20 p.m., there is Vespers or "evening prayer." This is in the church again with prayers of Psalms, Scripture reading and songs. After this twenty to twenty-five minute event, it is supper time.

Supper at the monastery is quite light. Soup and salad. After supper, there is time for relaxing and talking. A great deal of the monks time is spent in silence.

At 7:30 p.m., it is time for Compline or "night time prayer." I must admit, this is the most beautiful sounding of the times of prayer. The chanting and singing, though soft and quiet, is quite bright sounding to the ear. I understand that most monks are in bed from 8:00 - 8:30 p.m.

It is quite tempting to believe that the monks have time for all this because they are, well, monks. However, I like to believe that they spend their days the way they do is because Benedict in his Rule understood the importance for doing all the important things of life with a certain rhythm. Praying. Singing. Reading Scripture. Eating. Studying. Working. Relaxing. Resting. Could it be that we are so busy--feeling as if we are running around with our heads cut off--because we have not chosen to have a healthier rhythm for our lives.

Lord, teach us to use our time wisely and not feel so dominated by it. Lead us into a rhythm of life that allows us to cultivate time with you and your word. Help us eat to live and not live to eat. Teach us to work well and wisely and with passion, yet not be defined by it. Help us pause in the middle of the day and realize that all good blessings are from you. Teach us of the importance of stopping a few moments to meditate on you and your words of live. Help us see that it is important to develop stronger bonds of love with those we care about--our families and the body of Christ. Lord, help us go to bed at a decent hour, not mindlessly wasting time with television in order that we might truly be rested for the next days obligations. Lord, let the last moments of being awake be filled with thoughts of you and the privilege of being in your presence. This we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

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