Monday, September 20, 2010

Playing Monastic for a Day

I have been (half) joking for years that I want to join a monastic community, because I am drawn to the structure and rhythm of monastic life. So, I was excited that after three years of always having a schedule conflict (school, vacation, graduation, etc), I was able to go to the Monastic Day Apart at Pecometh. I had been to a day of silence at the National Cathedral a few years before, which had been a lovely experience but also a little intimidating and challenging. This was much more comfortable.

The day started at Rec Hall around 8:30 am with coffee and tea, and gathering in silence. As someone who is definitely not a morning person, it was very nice to wake up slowly with a cup of coffee, music, and prayer (I had the luxury of rolling out of bed and down the hill from the Wesley House at about 8:10... the joys of a short commute!) The atmosphere was very relaxed and casual. Each prayer time throughout the day was a mix of silence, singing, scripture, sharing, and reading prayers together. In other words, it was peaceful but also kept my ever-wandering mind engaged.

Next on the agenda was a time of prayerful work. The monastic life teaches that everything we do - even (especially!) our work - can be a means of experiencing God. So we could choose from a list of various tasks around camp - litter pick-up, window cleaning, weeding, etc - to do for a couple of hours. I was planting vinca around the Admin building, and realized just how useless I am in the garden (should have spent more time helping in the garden like my sister, less time playing in mud puddles). Fortunately, the other ladies knew what they were doing and one in particular was very good at directing me (we were in silence, of course - and she was very good at sticking to the silence thing). At some point during the morning I realized that being good at the work was not the point. So I tried to just be helpful and enjoy getting my hands dirty.

We met back in the outdoor chapel for mid-day prayer, and then had lunch in the Fellowship Hall. Lunch was soup, bread and fruit - simple and satisfying! We ate "prayerfully," so we weren't in strict silence but we didn't have to worry about making small talk. Instead, we listened to readings, and were invited to share reflections from the morning. One of the readings (from Henri Nouwen) said, "in solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness." That made me chuckled after my hour of fumbling around in the garden this morning, since I definitely had said the phrase "I'm useless in the garden" to myself at least a dozen times.

We followed that up with about an hour of silent reflection around camp. I spent my time on the pier, enjoying the sun and the breeze. The hour stretched on and on, but not in a tiresome way. I journaled, prayed, read, and spent time just lying sprawled out in the sun on the warm boards of the pier. The rhythm of the day had calmed my mind so that I was not quite so distracted as I usually am, and I just let my thoughts wander over reflections about the day, and things that I had been pondering over with God. When I think about how different that hour was from most of the hours I spend on the pier during the summer (usually busy, or else trying to relax and finding my time speeding by), I am grateful that I get to experience Camp in all seasons. People always ask if camp is lonely in the off-season, and it is sometimes, but God is still here.

We closed with another time of prayer and communion, and I left feeling peaceful and happy. The next Monastic Day Apart will be held in the spring, and I encourage anyone who is curious to come try it out!

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