Sunday, June 22, 2003

My first day

After I arrived, I walked around the campus with my friend Trish. I visited the monks’ cemetery, which is essentially a family cemetery for people whose family is the monastery. We went to Vespers at 5:00, had dinner with the monks at 5:30, then a final prayer service (Compline) at 7:00. Those of us who are here for the program then met from about 7:30 to 8:45 with the instructors to talk about the course requirements and expectations. In addition to this journal (see the first entry below), I found out that I’ll have a paper due in two weeks on some other aspect of non-Benedictine monasticism. Any suggestions anyone?

Benedictine liturgy is designed around the Psalms. It is set up so that over the course of one week, all 150 of the Psalms are prayed at the services. Tonight at Compline we prayed Psalms 4 and Psalms 91. If you read them, you see that they both have references to sleep, dreams, and beds. Benedict picked those Psalms as a way of preparing the monks for a restful night. There is a deliberate order to the way things are set up.

As far as the worship goes, I haven’t smelled so much incense and seen so many black robes since my college fraternity initiation. It has inadvertently raised some powerfully positive memories for me and reminded me of the power of ritual. It is nice to be reminded of the continuity of the past, present, and future in the timelessness of the Benedictine pattern of worship.

The Psalms are chanted, sometimes with accompaniment by an organ or guitar. The sound of all of the monks chanting/singing is beautiful in itself. I find myself concentrating too much on either the words or the chant – I can’t seem to keep up with both, so I think I’m missing the full experience. There’s a difference between reading it and knowing it and I think the monks who have chanted them so many times that they’ve memorized it can really experience the power of the words better than I can.

That’s it for now, I’m exhausted and have to be up at 5:30.

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