Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Prayer: Get thee to a monastery

In other times, people would often go to a monastery for a retreat.  Such a visit provided the opportunity to step out of the pressures and busy-ness of daily life, to find space and quiet time to relax in God's presence, to pray and listen.  Many of us still do make regular visits to monasteries and retreat centers.

Most monasteries have facilities for guests, because that is part of the service they offer the world.  St. Benedict wrote, "Let every guest be received as Christ."  Most monastic houses are wonderful at that sort of holy welcome.  It is an unforgettable experience to come for the very first time to a monastery, and to be greeted with an attitude of, "Where have you been?  We've been waiting for you to come home!"  I hope I will have such a welcome when I get to the doors of paradise...

Times have changed, though.  There are fewer monasteries. And many of us do not have the leisure or finances to travel to them.  Even more of us feel constricted by work and family demands.  Monastic communities haven't survived for nearly 2,000 years without being creative, though, and some of them are making a concerted effort to respond to the times in which we live.

There are now a number of communities who have an online presence.  Some offer online retreats, which you can do from home.  And some offer the opportunity to experiment with being a monk in the world.  The monastery I'm affiliated with was an early adopter.  Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton, South Dakota, developed a thriving online program for Benedictine oblates.  In the past few days, an announcement has come out about a new, exciting possibility.  The Erie Benedictines are beginning an online monastic community.  Monasteries of the Heart has the motto:"A new movement for a new world."

There are also ecumenical monastic communities without walls, like the Community of Solitude.

If you sometimes find yourself with an urgent longing to get away from it all for a while so you can spend time with God, consider a monastic community, physical or virtual. 

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