A Monastery Visit..Soak in the Silence
The silence is overwhelming at first. Only the songbirds and the whisper of the wind blowing through the cottonwoods breaks the stillness of the morning. I’m thinking, it’s wonderful to get away from it all but the abrupt leap into total silence is unnerving. I’m having second thoughts about this idea of taking a four day vacation in a Benedictine monastery.
Located in the high desert area, several miles east of Los Angeles, St. Andrew’s Abbey is not your typical destination resort. No swimming pool or golf course here. No nightly entertainment or video arcade. No bar. Good grief ! What am I going to DO here for four days?
On my arrival, one of the monks welcomes me warmly and gives me my key to a very basic room. It has a bed, a bath and shower, a desk and a chair. No telephone or computer hook-up. No television set.
Ensconced in my luxurious quarters, I look over the daily schedule of events at the Abby. They include the chanting of the divine office in the chapel at various times of the day, beginning at 6 A.M. and ending with evening prayers at 8:30 P.M. Real party animal stuff.
I and my fellow guests (there are ten of us as guests at the monastery) are free to attend and participate in the prayer life of the monks as we wish. Three meals a day are provided in the monastery refectory. We eat plain wholesome food and plenty of it. Breakfast is always eaten in silence and guests are requested to follow the monastic practice of the “grand silence” from evening prayer until after breakfast the following morning.
We don’t need our watches or alarm clocks. The mammoth monastery bell calls us to meals and prayer services as it has done for centuries in Benedictine monasteries.
At lunch, I find myself sitting across from a fresh-faced young woman, a Baptist, who is going to Siera Leone soon with two other church members to set up a children’s orphanage. Laura has a beautiful smile and laughing eyes, not one of those deadly serious, holier than thou types. Far from it. She is just a beautiful young person, fully aware that she is going to one of the most dangerous places on the planet but wanting with all her heart to do something that has meaning.
Sitting next to Laura is a man in his mid-thirties who has been making a good living in the food service business in L.A. I saw him arrive in his beamer convertible. Tom is a good looking guy and obviously successful but he wants something more from life. He tells us that he is staying for two weeks at St.Andrew’s with the idea that he might enter the Benedictine Order as a monk. I feel sort of intimidated by Tom and Laura but soon find that most of the other guests are just folks who feel the need to get away for a while from our noisy world.
It doesn’t take me long to get into the rhythm of a monastery day. I don’t miss at all the 6 o’clock news with the detailed account of all the bad things that happened this day. I don’t miss television or the telephone or the sounds of a world that has forgotten how to be still. It’s the very stillness that, after a while, is so sweet.
I grow to love the silence and be soothed by it. I enjoy participating with the monks as they send their ancient prayers heavenward. It seems so marvelous that there exists a place where holy men are praying round the clock for the likes of you and me and for world peace and families and people who are homeless and unemployed and for children who are hungry. Something about these men living a life of prayer in the desert just a few miles from the glitter of L.A. makes me hope for the future.
Going to a monastery for a vacation is not for everyone. I definitely would not recommend it for families. (“Dad, Mom, There’s nothing to DO here.”) But, it you ever feel a longing for quiet and reflection and can do without the need to be entertained, try walking in the shoes of a monk for a few days. It’s like a bath for the soul.