Saturday, April 26, 2008


My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from him. ~Psalm 62:1

Halfway up a hillside across several fields from the monastic buildings, the brothers of Gethsemane have placed life-sized bronze statues of the sleeping disciples, Peter, James and John. Continue up to the top of the forested hill and you’ll find the praying Jesus in agony. The monks call that hillside “The garden of Gethsemane”. Something in the quality of that statue of Jesus in prayer awoke my prayer life unlike any sermon I’ve ever heard on the subject of prayer. While we lie asleep, having given in to the various temptations, mostly ineffective in our spiritual life with God, Jesus continues to pray for us. Could you not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.[i] This singular activity is what lies at the heart of the spiritual life, including a monk’s vocational calling.

High above the entrance into the retreat house at Gethsemane Abbey, carved in granite, you find the words in capital letters, GOD ALONE. These words are drawn from Psalm 62:1 which reads, My soul finds rest in God alone. This spiritual reminder has traveled with me long after my departure from my various retreat weekends at Gethsemane.

After one of my visits to Gethsemane Abbey, I stopped through Bardstown, to fill up with gas before heading home. After a week of silence and solitude in such a place as Gethsemane Abbey, I was slapped in the face with the crass, hurried pace of civilization. Words seemed cheap, advertisements banal, and people bored or misdirected.

Strange though. After time in the cloister, I found my spirit full of compassion towards people. Spiritual journeys are to be shared. People are genuinely hungry for spiritual food and drink, including pastors.

What Gethsemane has to offer at the end of their mile long driveway most people yearn for but seldom seek, ask or find. Benedict had a clear vision of hospitality, carried out to this day in every Benedictine monastery: All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.[ii] This same Christ works the night shift, staying awake through the watches of the night to pray for our souls to find rest in God alone while we sleep.

[i] Matthew 26:40-41

[ii] RB53:1

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008


Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific, Prince of Peace Abbey offered me a quiet afternoon reprieve from people, church-politics and busyness. I had spent the previous day in Long Beach, at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.. I’ve never enjoyed church politics or ecclesiastical business. After observing the machinery of the Presbyterian Church for a day, I was looking for a quiet place to reflect and pray. Prince of Peace Abbey welcomed me into God’s cloister peace, a place to read, pray and renew my spirit.

A neighbor to Camp Pendleton Marine Base, the Prince of Peace Abbey stands as a counter-culture witness to our national war machine. The driveway meanders up “S” curves, past acres of wrecked cars. The sounds of cars being crushed at the junkyard below can be heard from the ridge top where I walked and prayed through the fourteen “Stations of the Cross”, a meditation on the crucifixion of Christ. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.[i]

Benedict thought it wise for monks to meditate upon death. Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.[ii] This kind of spiritual insight just doesn’t go over real well on Wall Street or Santa Monica Boulevard. The twin worlds of business and leisure groan with the pressure to produce something bigger, better, more exciting. Monks have taught me to learn how to die from those who are living life to the fullest in the face of death.

During the midday prayer service known as Day Hour, I marveled at the sunlight beaming through a vast stained glass mosaic window of depicting the glory of Creation. Far out on the horizon, we also could see the glimmering blue of the Pacific Ocean.

After prayer, the Abbot took me on a tour of Prince of Peace Abbey, including some quiet time for meditation in the tropical cloister flower garden. In typical Benedictine fashion, we then gathered as family in the monastic dining room to enjoy lunch together, eaten in silence as body and soul gathered together to once again find the gift of shalom, that spiritual restoration and well being which is our heart’s true gift from the Prince of peace.

[i] Isaiah 53:5.

[ii] Timothy Fry, O.S.B., Editor, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1982), Chapter 4, 28.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ecola Moonrise


By the tender mercies of our God, the rising Sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1:78-79

Sacred art radiates God’s glory high above the altar in the sanctuary at Monastery of the Holy Spirit. The glass artwork, a twenty-foot round window facing East, was designed with Lauds in mind. Mary, with open arms, offers the most radical form of hospitality any human has ever given, welcoming the Son of God into her mortal flesh. Within her womb the Christ Child offers the same open armed radiant blessing to the world. Above them both hovers the dove of the Holy Spirit and the hand of God. During Lauds, the morning service of the monastic day, God’s glory fills the sanctuary with radiance streaming through Mary and her Holy Child.

According to The Rule of St. Benedict, Lauds begins with the blessing from Psalm 67, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” I have often traveled the freeways, highways and country roads on my way to this abbey, in need of such a blessing. Weary of people, thread-bare of spirit, cynical and nearing burn-out, I’ve discovered God’s gift of spiritual renewal, simply by turning off the country road and heading down the mile long cloister drive lined with Magnolias.

Take the left fork at the end of the drive to arrive at the Abbey Guesthouse if you’re planning to stay overnight. If you’re just coming for Lauds, take the right fork which leads to the Porter’s lodge and the entrance to the Sanctuary. Step into the predawn Sanctuary and spend some time slowing down and gathering your soul together after that long drive. As Lauds begins, let the Psalms wash over your soul as the rising sunlight washes over your face, radiating through the colored glass artwork of Mary and Child.

After Lauds, stroll out to the gift shop to leisurely browse through an excellent collection of contemplative books. Monks support themselves like everyone else. A monk once told me that monasteries employ monks in a 24-hour workweek. This monastery included cottage industries of gift shop, bread baking, book-binding, stained-glass shop, farming and a Bonsai garden nursery.

I am often in need of the restoring help of monastic silence and solitude. That mile long row of Magnolias offered me this grace every retreat I’ve taken to Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. Though I could still hear the cars buzzing by along the country road, the noise seemed far off, like it belonged in another world. The fragrance of Magnolia blossoms in springtime, just after the dawning of the new day offered my weary soul heaven’s benediction.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty with your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.[i]

The sky swims with stars in the high desert at 4 in the morning. After a thirty-minute trek off the state highway along a rutted gravel road I breathed in the sage and juniper desert air as I stepped out of the car. Located at the end of fourteen miles of forest service road among mesas and sage, Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery is what you would call remote. People warned me to avoid traveling the forest service road in the rain as it turns to slippery muck in summer flash storms. Some stretches of the road sneak precariously along cliffs a hundred feet above the Chama river.

Four in the morning is not my favorite time of day. Part of the monastic vow of poverty is giving up sleep in order to pray before dawn. Benedictine monks regard prayer as more important than sleep. The true work of God, the “opus Dei”, begins at 4:15A.M. Benedict calls monks to begin the new day with Psalm 51:15, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Most people require divine assistance to jump start their spiritual life at four in the morning. Benedictine monks begin their work day at 4:15 in the morning, chanting the Psalms. Leaving the canopy of stars behind us, we quietly stepped into the darkened Sanctuary awaiting the beginning of the new day.

Entry into the contemplative life is like trying to catch a cat. Go directly after a “contemplative experience” and it will coyly dart away. Sit still before dawn, waiting for the sun to rise, and the contemplative life will quietly climb into your lap, lie down and begin to purr. But sitting still in silence doesn’t come naturally or easily.

A fourteen-mile driveway helps. Something about driving mile after mile of a one lane gravel road through sage fields beside ancient mesas gives you a feeling of withdrawal from society into that inner space of the soul where the river of our lives have their headwaters. Guests are invited to leave the highways of civilization, and enter by the narrow road that leads to life [ii].

A monk once told me the road to the monastery is seven years long. That’s the preparation period before taking final vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Along a cloister drive, you have a topographical reminder to let go of the busy world, and truly enter the quiet of the spiritual life. It takes a willing heart to get away from the busyness of our ordinary life, head down a cloister drive and step into sacred space of Vigils before we can slow down and truly welcome the gift of silence.

[i] Ecclesiastes 5:1-2.

[ii] Matthew 7:14.