January 3, 2024
Some years back, probably more than I want to remember now, I took a personal retreat at a monastery. This particular group of religious men observed a discipline called Canonical Hours. It outlined times of work and prayer in such a way that you became keenly aware of the cycle of daily living. It started early in the morning with prayer at 5am, breakfast at 6:00, work until 9:00, mid-morning prayer…you get the idea. I met with a spiritual director several times a day and found the entire experience to be, at once, refreshing and exhausting. After about 4 days, my mind, body and spirit had been sufficiently restored where I felt I could return to work and contribute meaningfully from the rich depths of wisdom which had been imparted to me.
I should add that I was not working in active, ordained ministry at the time. I was paying my way through college by working road construction, diligently following an asphalt spreader with my shovel and picking up errant bits of 160 degree paving to throw back into the hopper. My colleagues were a mix of socio-economic-religio-politico-fellows with a few borderline personalities thrown in for good measure. My naïve attempts at conversation relating my time at the monastery and lessons learned fell, by and large, on deaf and sometimes hostile ears. I believe that I could have benefited from the modern phrase, “Read the room.”
Still, the experience at the monastery was beneficial. These many years later I can clearly remember the conversations with my sainted spiritual director, the soft cycle of the Canonical Hours, the strangely attractive music at worship and the deep silences which are often a hallmark of monastic life. I am able to experience them all again through the lenses of age, experience and insight which I did not posses at the time. Some blessings need time to mature into proper appreciation.
Of course, I have one lesson which has stuck with me ever since the first day of my monastic retreat: I pray much better after 7am. Preferably with coffee.
I bid you peace!