As a busy mom of 10
An entire weekend of silence might sound horrifying to some people, but as a busy mom of 10, it was my fantasy granted (okay fine, I only have 2 kids, and they're fairly angelic, but I still have my share of stressful, noisy days).
Amid the rolling hills of New Haven, Kentucky sits Gethsemani, a home to 50 Trappist monks. They spend their days in silence, albeit singing 7 times a day. They earn their living by making and selling cheese and fudge (chocolate mint bourbon is my personal favorite!), as well as hosting guests for silent retreats, which is where my friend, Emily, and I found ourselves a few weekends ago.
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Here are just a few of my observations:
1. Time morphs when you're laying low.
It turns out that when you're silent, away from all of lifes distractions, time contorts. Emily and I spent our 6-hour drive home talking about Gethsemani, and we both agree there was a time warp involved. It doesn't seem like everything that transpired could have possibly taken place in 2 days. It has taken me a couple weeks just to compile all my notes and thoughts, and in many ways there are lessons gained that months of therapy or spiritual counseling could not have provided. Some of what I gained is just for me, and it will remain in my hermitage as the monks refer to it. But other lessons need to be shared, if only to intrigue others to seek out their own silent moments.
2. You're never less alone than when you're alone.
I can't take credit for this statement. Fr. Carlos, our main host, gave 2 one-hour talks both mornings we we're there. So obviously it was not 2 days of complete silence. There we're the talks and of course the singing in the sanctuary, and there was a talking dining area you could choose to sit in during meal times. But the rule was to be silent in the rooms and on the grounds right outside of the dormitory-style building. Emily and I did talk quietly in our rooms from time-to-time, but we tried to abide by the rules both in respect of the other guests and to offer ourselves an authentic experience.
Being an introvert, I've never really minded time to myself, but I have also felt very lonely at times, even in rooms full of people. This intentional time alone, however, felt inviting and far from lonely. Fr. Carlos talked about creating a "hermitage" a place within yourself that you can retreat to in the midst of a chaotic life, a place of peace where you don't judge or react. This concept intrigued me, and I found myself sitting in the Gethsemani garden, journaling for hours, cultivating my own hermitage, and it's something I'm looking forward to blogging about in the future.
3. You can go through life with your questions unanswered, and it's okay.
Being a 5 on the Enniagram, I am naturally a curious, inquisitive person who wants to know everything about everything, and many of my most stressful moments in life have occurred when I have felt stuck in the unknown. So when Fr. Carlos said this phrase in one of his talks, it resonated deeply, and I felt an immediate relief as the pressure to seek answers subsided enough for me to relax into the present.
4. Monks are just people.
Sociology and Cultural Anthropology were, by far, my favorite courses in college. Observing how others live, especially if it is extremely different from my own way of life, fascinates me. If I could go live with the Amish for a weekend, I would do it. And if there was a reality show on Trappist monks, I would definitely be an avid viewer, though I doubt they would ever agree to such a thing.
I was so curious about the monks daily life. I devoured any snippet of information Fr. Carlos, our main host, offered about their lifestyle like a drooling dog. I loitered around the conference room after each talk to bombard Fr. Carlos, and I'm pretty sure Emily was mortified by my ridiculous questions. So, do the monks go back to sleep after the 3:15 am mass? (for those curious, nope, they're not supposed to, but some older, tired monks do!)
During one of his talks, Fr. Carlos mentioned that monks argue, and while I know they're not saints or anything, the idea of monks arguing was completely bewildering to me (I mean, first of all, how do you argue in silence?). I wanted to sneak in and observe them, but of course they have their own quarters.
One of them had family visiting, and they we're this loud, raucous bunch staying in the guest house across the road. Since they we're across the way, they did not have to adhere to silence, and their happy, chattering noises in the distance reminded me of my own large extended family gatherings. I became increasingly intrigued with what kind of families they came from and what kind of people choose a strict, religious vocation.
My husbands uncle is a priest, and he is one of my favorite people in the world to be around genuinely kind, thoughtful, and lighthearted in his interactions. I know that it takes a certain kind of person to join the priesthood, but that seems more familiar to me. I've met many priests before. But I had never met any monks. I think it takes a different kind of person to join a Trappist monastery in which you spend much of your life in silence. I once watched a 3-hr-long silent documentary on Trappist monks in France, and it was difficult just to watch for 3 hours, much less live daily. I always assumed anti-social types would choose such a solemn life, but Fr. Carlos is one of the most gregarious, funny extroverts I have ever met, and some of the monks nodded and half-smiled at us on the last day as they processed out of the sanctuary. Being at Gethsemani made me realize that these are just men who choose devout lives. As much as we idealize, romanticize or criticize lives that are very different from our own, we're all just people living life, getting in squabbles, doing dishes, and living the lives we've chose.
5. Silence and song are breeding grounds for the mystical to occur.
There is a depth in the repetition of monastic life that differs from the monotonous repetition of my daily life. Ihad several mystical, inexplicable experiences in just 2 days at Gethsemani, which is more than I've had in the past year at home. This is not to say that God is only present at Gethsemani or that nothing mystical ever occurs at home, but the combination of solitude and songs of devotion and contemplationput me at a place to receive and observe.
This is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote after attending the monks' 3:15 am time of prayer and song, called "matins".
When the monks sing, I am transported. There is no time and space. There is just a dancing of souls, a mingling of spirits. The monks face each other in long rows, white robes touching the floor. There are about 25 on the left side, 25 on the right. Sometimes they sing in unison, and at other parts, the left side sings and the right side answers. Its reminiscent of a well-rehearsed dance, each partner moving in fluid, synchronized movements. It is joyful yet solemn, graceful yet strong.Seven times a day, they bow and sing, lifting their voices to a power larger than their own, offering gratitude to their Maker.
These are soul rhythms, and I don't feel their beautiful sync nearly enough in my busy suburban life. It is within these rhythms that I sense the narrowing of life's polarities.
Light and dark. Sight and Blindness. Loss and Gain.
The union of these opposing ideas is clear and evident to me in this place. They blur together, light piercing the darkness, darkness pigmentingthe light.
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Posted in Churches/Faith/Religion Post Date 12/30/2016