Just spent a few days at a Benedictine monastery.  It was restorative, peaceful, and transformative.  The schedule at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, MA is:
  • 6:30 AM Vigils
  • Lectio Divinia (silence)
  • 7:45 AM Lauds
  • 12:00 PM Eucharist
  • 5:15 PM Vespers
  • Lectio Divinia (silence)
  • 7:45 PM Compline

In effect, you spend around 4 hours observing the Liturgy of the Hours with the brothers and whomever else comes to these services and 1.5 hours in silence.

The focus of the services—Vigils, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline in particular, is the Psalms.  There are just so many good Psalms, and 150 to choose from!  There are Psalms of Thanksgiving and Praise, Lament and Confession of Trust, Wisdom Psalms and Royal Psalms.  The Psalms are said or sung, divided into parts with one side of the church saying or singing a few lines and the other side joining in.  Sometimes one of the monks served as the cantor and would recite the first line or stanza of a Psalm and the rest of us joined him.  My favorite instance of this was the cantor singing to begin Lauds, “O God, come to my assistance.”  We joined in, “O Lord, make haste to help me.”

Many of the Psalms we chanted (with the monks leading the way) echoed in my soul:

Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord, O my soul!  I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long. (Psalm 146)

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. (Psalm 23)

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. (Psalm 121)

Often, my bff from seminary and yours truly were the only people worshiping with the monks.  So we had the privilege of really getting to know these wonderful men of God.  We were the only two retreatants during our stay, so we ate lunch and dinner with them every day and got to connect outside of worship.  And despite what you may (or may not) think about monks—these men have been living in community with each other for decades in some cases and act like real brothers.  One can observe them joking and laughing and praying and working together daily, especially outside the sanctuary of the Abbey Church.  When they asked about us on our first day and we explained that we are both UCC ministers, one of the brothers exclaimed in delight, “Oh!  Fellow Shepherds!”  It was fantastic to spend our days worshiping God in this community of Benedictine monks.

Spending 1.5 hours in silence per day may seem restrictive, but it was freeing.  I spent most of the silent periods writing, but Lectio Divinia was another option and it’s one of my favorite spiritual practices.  It’s Latin for “divine reading” and the Benedictines developed it many, many years ago.  It calls for reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating scripture in a way that honors the Bible as the living word of God.  Maybe it’s funny that this deeply Catholic practice so appeals to a Protestant minister like me.  But on the contrary, it speaks to my UCC soul.  It was John Robinson, the pastor of the Pilgrims after all, who proclaimed that God indeed has more light and truth to break forth from God’s holy word.  Lectio Divina honors this belief that God is indeed still speaking, still bringing more light and truth into the world and into our very lives today.

During my time on retreat, I turned off my phone.  Those on a need to know basis in my life were asked that they only text or leave a voicemail if something was urgent, and that I would only check once a day.  Did I break this?  Yes.  Did I break it often?  No.  I relished turning off my phone and feeling like I could “be still” and know that God is God and I am not.  Our Interim CE Director kindly agreed to lead worship and preach in my absence (today) so I would not spend my 3 nights away writing a sermon or putting together liturgy for Sunday.

Admittedly, the transition back has been hard, harder than I imagined or expected.  When my phone rings and buzzes and chirps, I feel anxious.  Getting through the pile of e-mail and back to the daily grind, including many evening meetings and church events, is going to be rough this week.  My heart does feel a longing to go back to the pace of life and uninterrupted time with God and even with myself that I experienced at the monastery.  Yet, I will channel my time at the Abbey and the words on my mouth in the days ahead will often be, “O God, come to my assistance.  O Lord, make haste to help me.”

The library where we could study