To get an idea of what a Benedictine monastery is like (at least from my experience over spring break), I would encourage you to try something before you continue reading: try sitting in silence for as long as you can. Don’t check your email, FaceBook, or browse the web; don’t check your phone or talk to a friend. 15 seconds or 15 minutes, just be alone and embrace silence…go Different, huh? In a guest book at the monastery of Christ in the Desert, there was a passage that urged guests to respect the silence of the monks. “The monastery strives to have silence within its walls, as equivalently as the world has noise,” it read. “Sit back and enjoy the lack of activity.” At first, this was admittedly a little jarring, despite the fact that our group knew what we were getting into. I expected to love the silence and slow pace, and I did for two and a half days. I jumped in head first, attending all seven services both Sunday and Monday (these start at 4a.m., mind you, and the schedule can be seen here). I was starting to get the hang of chanting the psalms together, and bowing at the correct times. But eventually, the routine wore me down. I was surprised at how tired I was, despite being able to nap throughout the day. Looking back, perhaps it was the silence itself that tired me. I was spending more energy than usual listening, thinking, and reflecting.
One of my favorite realizations from the trips is that the monks are normal people like us. One day, when we entered the dining hall – that’s refectory to you – I was caught off guard to see corndogs and Taquitos laid out with the other dinner choices. I chuckled at the time, but seeing our “guest master,” Brother Andre, chowing down on three corndogs had a more profound impact than I realized. The monks weren’t too different from us after all. In the few interactions I was able to have with the monks, I really enjoyed getting to see their personalities, and hear a little about their lives before the monastery.
The most important lesson I learned was to wait in silence for God. As St. Benedict said himself at the beginning of his Rule: “Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart.” I would challenge you to spend five minutes a day, listening, waiting, enjoying the silence.
Check out this link to meet two of the monks, get some good views of the monastery, and hear some psalm chanting at 4:49.
Hunter Schroer is a senior at Baylor majoring in Environmental Engineering. He is from Jefferson City, Missouri. After graduating from May he and his soon-to-be-wife Audrey will attend graduate school at the University of Iowa.
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