Are Monasteries a Place to Vacation?
I stayed in a monastery last week!
At the start of 2021, I was challenged by my sister Judy to spend a week in silence. My sister was suffering from ALS, and her voice was taken from her. Every day something more was taken from her, and during the stripping away of everything we call vital, Judy was transfigured into a being of light. Often, friends, priests, and nuns would say to Judy, “I can see Jesus in your eyes.” Her eyes were glowing, and her hugs were transcending. It was as if she had one foot in heaven and one on earth. Judy often said that one could clearly hear God’s voice in the silence and that kindness, compassion, and love were magnified. If silence was the key to this, I was ready and eager.
Last month I spent 3 days in contemplative silence, and it was amazing. And THEN, I was invited to be a guest in a Benedictine Monastery in Oregon! This monastery is filled with Monks who are basically cloistered, meaning that they live in silence except for praying and chanting. I was invited to live among them, pray with them, celebrate Mass with them, and eat with them.
The Vigil Bells began to ring at 5:20 am for 5:30am prayers on my first morning there. I stumbled out of bed, grabbed warm clothes, and walked to Mass in the twilight of the morning. As I sat on the wooden pew, the Monks in their brown hooded vestments began to file in through the corridor two by two. As they came into the church, they first bowed to each other and bowed at the altar before walking to their seats. Soon the entire space was filled with Benedictine Monks, and another bell rang. The monks began to chant and slowly started their morning offering through prayer.
The incense, the candles, the music, the church… it was all part of the unreal experience. With each breath, I melted into the nothingness of the world and melted into the everything of eternity. Watching the wisdom and modest ways of the monks, I truly felt the divine abandonment of this world as they gave their whole being over to being united with God in every moment. It was as if they were living on earth as it is in heaven. Their entire existence is dedicated to preparing their soul for eternity and sharing that with others.
After, morning Laud prayers followed chanting and a fantastic breakfast. One hour later, we were back in church for Mass. After Mass, we walked into the Abbey library, and I fell in love! An entire library of books on God and the saints! Ok, now I was really in heaven!!! Every book, paper, and magazine I picked up was filled with Sacred Wisdom. There were books dating back to the 1700s, along with rows upon rows of ancient texts! There were three rows of transcripts and books alone on St. Thomas Aquinas!!! I could have stayed the entire time in this space, running through and randomly picking out books to discover the hidden wisdom of the masters and saints who walked before us.
As I slowed down, bathed in ancient wisdom, and soaked in prayer through chants, my senses were awakened. Through the ancient traditions, I touched the surface of “Divine Abandonment,” and I crave more. Silence is transformative. In the day and age of ever-present and changing noise, maybe we could all benefit from a week in a monastery. I pray that when I glance at the Benedictine Medal on my wrist, I too remember to STOP, BREATHE, and PRAY.
—Amy D'Ambra/MSMH Founder and Co-Owner