“For it becomes the master to speak and to teach, but it beseems the disciple to be silent and to listen.” The Rule of St. Benedict
Fall break. I am spending a week with fourteen college students, plus my son, living the life—as near as we can—of the Benedictine monks of Clear Creek in Oklahoma. It is truly an experience of another life. A life that has the power to change the world. Indeed, once upon a time it did. A life from which we—even though most of us must live a different life—can learn much.
Perhaps the most striking feature is the silence. St. Benedict both commands silence and forbids idleness. Silence with a purpose. Silence with urgency, but peace. Silence because something needs to be done, which can only be done in silence. Silence because something needs to be learned. Through listening.
Upon seeing and hearing such silence one is struck by how strange it is. How can they do this?
Then light begins to dawn. How can the rest of us not emulate this? Somehow. For the sake of human life.
St. Benedict (480-543) is considered the father of western monasticism.
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John I would love to hear about this on your return.
Sent from my iPhone
Would love to talk about this with you sometime! As you might remember, Fontgombault was a pivotal point in my life. It pretty much shaped the rest of my Christendom career(trying to grapple with questions like, “How exactly does the active life participate in the contemplative?!”) and I think continues to shape the path of my life. The time spent in the silence of monasticism for 2 weeks shook me to the core. It seems sometimes, that I am still trying to digest everything that happened during that short period.
As also noted, the silence of the place is what really struck me. We are often told to make sure we make room for “listening to God” in our prayer life. When I experienced the intensity to which these monks spend their lives “listening” I had to question what the heck I had been doing all those years prior when I was practicing what I called “listening.” Delving deeper into this one thing can be life changing. It is no coincidence that St. Benedict’s rule opens with the word “Listen…” To a certain extent, one could ask, Is there really anything else necessary in the spiritual life? — Corey Morgan
Corey, I appreciate your thoughts very much. I do remember your experience. I think that we all just had a very similar experience. The monastic life has a unique power to challenge us, to force us to think about fundamental issues–most of all, what is it ‘all about?’ I hope that what we witnessed this past week will keep us wondering and reflecting for some time. I also hope to have occasion to pursue these things further with you, and your father.
Dr. Cuddeback, have you ever seen the film “Into Great Silence” about the Carthusian contemplatives of Grande Chartreuse monastery in France? It my have less of an effect on you given that you’ve experienced monastic life first hand, nevertheless, it’s a fantastic portrayal of the life on a contemplative community. Mary has chosen the greater part.