Tuesday, October 13, 2009

~At St. Gregory's~

Some have asked.

Weekdays the alarm in my Guesthouse bedroom buzzes at 3:30 a.m., and at 3:50 a.m. the First Bell for Matins, at 4 a.m. That service read by the monks in the quiet of the dark Abbey Church, following (as is true with all the offices of the day) the ancient pattern of prayers, responses, psalms, and canticles first set out by St. Benedict in his Rule (c. a.d. 525) and including the Old and New Testament readings from the Daily Office Lectionary. (Over the course of the week the monks will pray aloud either speaking or singing about 200 Psalms--each of the 150 at least once during the week, and some once each day.) About 45 minutes. Then a break.

I generally make a cup of instant coffee in the Guesthouse Common Room and then sit on the little porch outside my room listening to the night sounds of the woods and farmland surrounding. At 5:50 the First Bell for Lauds, beginning at 6 a.m., with a silent Angelus and then with the first singing of the day, hymns, psalms, the Benedictus, readings and collects.

At 6:40 or so I walk cross the ambulatory to the refectory for a quiet breakfast (cheerios on a base of grape nuts), then back to the Guesthouse to shave and straighten the room and then to do some devotional reading.

At 8:05 a.m. the Bell rings, and then at 8:15 a.m. the next Office of the day, Terce, with hymn, prayers, responses, and psalms, followed directly by the Conventual Mass--a simple but highly ritualized, sung Rite II service, with the monks and any guests and visitors gathered in a semi-circle at the Abbey Church's free-standing altar.

After Mass the monks report to their work--in offices, garden, kitchen, laundry, etc. I go out for a run, with a little loop of 6-miles that I've charted out over the years along the country roads surrounding the monastery. During which time I generally find the chant tunes and texts of the morning canticles, psalms, and hymns rolling around in my thoughts. Then back in for a quick shower and a bit of reading, until the 11:20 a.m. Bell, and 11:30 a.m. Sext--which like Terce is one of the shorter Offices, again with a silent Angelus, hymn, the traditional selection of psalms, and a few responses and prayers. Usually then I spend a few minutes rummaging around in the monastery Library.

A few minutes before noon guests gather at the door of the Refectory with a bit of conversation--often joined by Abbot Andrew or one of the other monks--and then at noon the bell rings and we enter the Refectory for lunch, which at the monastery is the principal meal of the day, and usually quite substantial. (The monks in general follow St. Benedict's recommendation in Chapter 39 about avoiding the eating of meat from "four footed animals"--except on Sundays.) After a blessing we eat in silence, guests at one table and monks at another, while the monk who is Reader for the week reads to the community.

(Currently the Refectory reading is the memoir by Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB--the Benedictine Roman Catholic Archbishop of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who had quite a controversial career as a "Vatican II liberal" in the increasingly conservative Roman Catholic Church of the 1980's and 1990's.)

After lunch there is a break (which Benedictines call the "siesta") until 1:50 p.m., when the Bell calls the community back to the Church for None--again, a silent Angelus followed by traditional hymn, prayers, psalms.

The afternoon is then another work period for the monks, and I spend the time with my retreat reading/writing project (this week I was working through Bishop Tom Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, which I will be presenting in a book discussion series at St. Andrew's this winter). Really a very interesting book. Sometimes this is a good time also for writing a letter or two or a journal entry. And usually I break up the afternoon with a walk around the monastery grounds--either through the woods to down to the lake or out along a long dirt roadway across the farm.

At 4:30 the Refectory opens for "tea" (this I think a relic of St. Gregory's roots in the English Benedictine community at Nashdom back in the 1930's), and at 4:50 the Bell rings for 5 p.m. Vespers--the most musical service of the day, including prayers, readings, sung psalms, and a sung Magnificat.

At the conclusion of Vespers the Church is reserved for a period of silent meditation and Centering Prayer.

Then at 5:50 guests again gather at the Refectory door, with 6 p.m. Dinner--generally a very simple meal: perhaps a bowl of soup and a slice of bread, or a half a sandwich and a small salad, during which time again the continuation of the Refectory reading.

After Dinner is another quiet time. When I'm at the monastery in winter usually what I do is make a cup of decaf in the Guesthouse and spend the time reading. In spring and fall, when it's still light after dinner, I'll take a walk. At 7:35 the Bell rings for 7:45 Compline--a service that begins with a long reading from one of the ancient Church Fathers, then traditional psalms, readings, and prayers, concluding with the singing (in Latin) of the Salve Regina and with the Abbot's Asperges (the sprinkling of Holy Water over the monks and guests)and prayers. Then, entering what is called the "Great Silence" of the night, the monks head back in silence to the monastic residence and guests to the guesthouse. I sometimes will sit up for a while reading--and then, by 9 p.m., it's bedtime . . . .

Thus at St. Gregory's Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, things are rather different. The morning begins a bit later, with a combined service of Matins and Lauds beginning at 5:30 a.m., then with Terce and Mass at 8:30 p.m. ( a solemn service, with more singing, incence, and the Church decorated with flowers from the monastery gardens), a coffee hour (with cookies!) following. Sext and Nones are combined at 11 a.m., and Lunch--which begins with an ancient liturgy as the monks exchange the various roles (reader, cooks, servers, laundry, etc.)--which is rather elegant. Without reading, but with recorded music, and . . . dessert!

The long afternoon is quiet around the monastic grounds. At 5 p.m. a lovely sung Vespers, and then at 6:30 the one informal, "talking" meal of the week--usually something simple--pizza, hamburger barbecue, etc., and usually with a beer or wine option. This the one extended time of the monastic week (not counting a few minutes at the Refectory door before meals) when monks other than the Abbot or Guestmaster will spend social, conversational time with guests and visitors. This until 7:45, and then Compline . . . and then the Great Silence begins, and a new week.

The life of the monastery is one that is rooted in an immersion in prayer and scripture, and in the practice of quiet, Christ-centered restraint, balance, order, and hospitality--with a special intention to cultivate a rich inner and inward awareness.

In February 2004 I had the opportunity, during my sabbatical, to live at St. Gregory's for a full month. Each year since I've returned for a retreat, usually for four or five days in the spring or fall, and a couple of years ago I entered the Confraternity of the Order of St. Benedict through St. Gregory's. I've come to think of the monastery as a very much a spiritual home-away-from-home, of the monks who make their home there as friends--and I have indeed found it to be a blessing to my life and ministry in more ways than I can count.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds good to me.
xx- Susy